Systemic nicotine enhances burst firing of dopamine neurons in the ventral tegmental area and dopamine release in the nucleus accumbens, mainly via stimulation of nicotinic acetylcholine receptors in the ventral tegmental area. Given that both the neuronal activity of mesolimbic dopamine neurons and terminal dopamine release are regulated by excitatory amino acid inputs to the ventral tegmental area and that nicotine facilitates glutamatergic transmission in brain, we investigated the putative role of ionotropic glutamate receptors within the ventral tegmental area for the effects of nicotine on dopamine release in the nucleus accumbens using microdialysis, with one probe implanted in the ventral tegmental area for drug application and another in the ipsilateral nucleus accumbens for measuring dopamine, in awake rats. Systemic nicotine (0.5 mg/kg, s.c.) and infusion of nicotine (1.0 mM) into the ventral tegmental area increased dopamine output in the nucleus accumbens. Intrategmental infusion of alpha-amino-3-hydroxy-5-methylisoxazole-4-propionate (0.1 mM) or N-methyl-D-aspartate (0.3 mM) increased accumbal dopamine release; these effects were antagonized by concomitant infusion of a selective antagonist at N-methyl-D-aspartate receptors, 2-amino-5-phosphonopentanoic acid (0.3 mM), and non-N-methyl-D-aspartate receptors, 6-cyano-7-nitroquinoxaline-2,3-dione (0.3 mM), respectively. Infusion of either antagonist (0.3 or 1.0 mM) into the ventral tegmental area did not affect basal dopamine levels, whereas infusion of 2-amino-5-phosphonopentanoic acid, but not 6-cyano-7-nitroquinoxaline-2,3-dione, starting 40 min before nicotine injection dose-dependently attenuated the nicotine-induced increase in accumbal dopamine release. Concurrent intrategmental infusion of 2-amino-5-phosphonopentanoic acid and nicotine decreased nicotine-induced dopamine release in the nucleus accumbens. These results indicate that the stimulatory action of nicotine on the mesolimbic dopamine system is to a considerable extent mediated via stimulation of N-methyl-D-aspartate receptors within the ventral tegmental area.