The mediodorsal thalamic nucleus (MD) receives convergent inputs from subcortical limbic structures that overlap with a dopaminergic (DA) innervation. In this study, we describe the effects of DA agonists on the basal and evoked electrophysiological activity of identified thalamic cells of rats recorded in vitro. Administration of the D1 agonist SFK 38393 (10 microM) did not produce a clear effect on the physiological properties of the thalamic cells recorded. In contrast, bath administration of the D2 agonist quinpirole (10 microM) resulted in an enhancement of membrane excitability, facilitation of the occurrence of low-threshold spikes (LTSs), and changes in the resting membrane potential of the thalamic cells tested. The quinpirole-mediated responses were reversed by administration of the D2 antagonist haloperidol. Results from experiments performed with different [K+] and K+ channel blockers suggest that the effects of quinpirole are mediated at least in part by changes in K+ conductances. The results from this study suggest that DA can modulate the excitability of thalamic cells and in turn may influence the way that the thalamocortical system integrates information.