Treatment with dopamine receptor agonists has been shown to induce centrally mediated effects on cardiovascular regulation. We have investigated the effect on blood pressure and heart rate of stimulating the release of endogenous dopamine in the brain from the mesolimbic/mesocortical (A10) dopaminergic system of conscious Sprague-Dawley rats. Stimulation of the region of origin of the A10 dopaminergic system, the ventral tegmental area (VTA), with local micro-injection of the substance P analogue DiMe-C7, produced a dose-dependent increase in blood pressure and heart rate. The injection of 10 nmol of DiMe-C7 produced a maximum increase in blood pressure of 15-20 mmHg at 10 min following administration and a maximum tachycardia of 70-80 B/min. Intravenous pretreatment with the dopamine D-1 receptor antagonist SCH 23390 (0.1 mg/kg) or the dopamine D-2 receptor antagonist raclopride (0.5 mg/kg) markedly inhibited the pressor response and revealed a bradycardia. Furthermore, the pressor response and tachycardia were completely blocked by pretreatment with the vasopressin V-1 receptor antagonist, Pmp1,O-Me-Tyr2-[Arg8]vasopressin (10 micrograms/kg). Pretreatment with the ganglion blocker, pentolinium (10 mg/kg), had little effect on the blood pressure response, however it attenuated the tachycardia. Micro-injection of 10 nmol of DiMe-C7 into a region 2 mm dorsal to the VTA had little effect on blood pressure yet produced a marked bradycardia. The administration of DiMe-C7 into the region of origin of the nigrostriatal A9 dopaminergic system, the substantia nigra, produced a slight but significant increase in blood pressure with little effect on heart rate. Intracerebroventricular administration of DiMe-C7 also produced a pressor response with a more pronounced tachycardia. The blood pressure responses produced by intranigral or i.c.v. injection of DiMe-C7 were not inhibited by pretreating the rats with raclopride. These results suggest an involvement of the mesolimbic A10 dopaminergic system in the regulation of blood pressure and heart rate through the activation of dopamine D-1 and D-2 receptors and vasopressin release.