The putative role of non-NMDA excitatory amino acid (EAA) receptors in the ventral tegmental area (VTA) for the increase in dopamine (DA) release in the nucleus acumbens (NAC) and the behavioural stimulation induced by systemically administered dizocilpine (MK-801) was investigated. Microdialysis was utilized in rats with probes in the VTA and NAC. The VTA was perfused with the AMPA and kainate receptor antagonist CNQX (0.3 or 1.0 mM) or vehicle and dialysates from the NAC were analyzed with high-performance liquid chromatography for DA. Forty min after onset of CNQX or vehicle perfusion of the VTA MK-801 (0.1 mg/kg) was injected subcutaneously (s.c.). Subsequently, typical MK-801 induced behaviours were assessed. The MK-801 induced hyperlocomotion was associated with a 50% increase of DA levels in NAC dialysates. Both the MK-801 evoked hyperlocomotion and DA release in the NAC were effectively antagonized by CNQX perfusion of the VTA. However, by itself the CNQX or vehicle perfusion of the VTA did not affect DA levels in NAC or the rated behaviours. The results indicate that MK-801 induced hyperlocomotion and increased DA release in the NAC are largely elicited within the VTA via activation of non-NMDA EAA receptors, tentatively caused by locally increased EAA release. In contrast, the enhanced DA output in the NAC induced by systemic nicotine (0.5 mg/kg s.c.) was not antagonized by intra VTA infusion of CNQX (0.3 or 1.0 mM), but instead by infusion of the NMDA receptor antagonist AP-5 (0.3 or 1.0 mM) into the VTA, which by itself did not alter DA levels in the NAC. Thus, the probably indirect, EAA mediated activation of the mesolimbic DA neurons in the VTA by MK-801 and nicotine, respectively, seems to be mediated via different glutamate receptor subtypes.