In vivo microdialysis was used to investigate the effect of beta-phenylethylamine on extracellular levels of monoamines and their metabolites in the nucleus accumbens of conscious rats. At all doses tested (1, 10 and 100 microM), infusion of beta-phenylethylamine through the microdialysis probe significantly increased extracellular levels of dopamine in the nucleus accumbens. These increases were dose-related. The increase in dopamine levels induced by 100 microM beta-phenylethylamine was not affected by co-perfusion of 4 microM tetrodotoxin. The ability of 100 microM beta-phenylethylamine to increase the extracellular level of dopamine was comparable to that of the same dose of methamphetamine. On the other hand, beta-phenylethylamine had a much less potent enhancing effect on 5-hydroxytryptamine (5-HT) than dopamine levels. Only the highest dose (100 microM) caused a statistically significant effect on 5-HT levels. Over the dose range tested (1, 10 and 100 microM), beta-phenylethylamine had no effect on extracellular metabolite levels of dopamine and 5-HT. The results suggest that beta-phenylethylamine increases the efflux of monoamines, preferentially dopamine, without affecting monoamine metabolism, in the nucleus accumbens.