The present study determined the effect of bilateral lesions of specific cortical or thalamic nuclei that provide excitatory amino acid afferents to the nucleus accumbens (i.e. the dorsal prefrontal cortex, ventral prefrontal cortex, amygdala, hippocampus and periventricular thalamus) on the expression of cocaine-induced behavioral sensitization. Lesions of these nuclei were made during a three-week withdrawal period following repeated daily injections of cocaine or saline. The results indicate that dorsal prefrontal cortex lesions block the expression of behavioral sensitization to cocaine, while ventral prefrontal cortex, fimbria fornix, amygdala and thalamic lesions have no effect. A subsequent microdialysis experiment was performed in order to evaluate the effect of dorsal prefrontal cortex lesions on glutamate transmission in the nucleus accumbens core of cocaine- and saline-pretreated rats. The systemic injection of cocaine produced a significant increase in extracellular glutamate in the nucleus accumbens core among animals with a sham surgery; this effect was blocked by a bilateral lesion of the dorsal prefrontal cortex. Taken together, these results indicate that the dorsal prefrontal cortex, which provides excitatory amino acid input selectively to the core region of the nucleus accumbens, enhances the expression of behavioral sensitization to cocaine by increasing glutamate transmission in this subnucleus.