The aim of the present study was to determine whether local administration of endothelin induces the release of dopamine in the rat striatum and to characterize and localize endothelin receptors in this brain region. Local injection of endothelin-1 (10 pmol) into the ventral striatum of urethane-anaesthetized rats caused an increase of 8 microM in the extracellular concentration of dopamine as measured by in vivo chronoamperometry. The peak increase in dopamine concentration occurred within 5 min of endothelin injection. Injection of the selective endothelin-B receptor agonist [Ala1.3,11.15]endothelin-1 (10 pmol) also caused an increase in extracellular dopamine concentration, suggesting that endothelin is acting at the endothelin-B receptor to elicit its effect. In rats with unilateral 6-hydroxydopamine lesions of the nigrostriatal pathway, the response to local injection of endothelin-1 (10 pmol) was significantly inhibited on the lesioned side as compared to the non-lesioned side. In contrast, pretreatment of the rats with the N-methyl-D-aspartate receptor antagonist dizocilpine maleate (5 mg/kg, i.p.) or the nitric oxide synthase inhibitor NG-nitro-L-arginine (3 mg/kg, i.p.) did not alter the endothelin-induced release of dopamine. In binding studies, addition of endothelin-1 displaced [125I]endothelin-1 with a Ki of 220 pM. The endothelin-B receptor antagonist BQ788 displaced [125I]endothelin-1 with a Ki of 120 nM, whereas the endothelin-A receptor antagonist BQ123 produced only a 25% displacement at 10 microM, suggesting that endothelin receptors in the striatum are of the endothelin-B subtype. In rats with unilateral 6-hydroxydopamine lesions of the nigrostriatal dopamine system, [125I]endothelin-1 binding was reduced by 53% in lesioned striatum compared to non-lesioned striatum, with no difference in the Kd. These data provide evidence that endothelin acts on a homogeneous population of endothelin-B receptors within the striatum to cause the release of dopamine and that a significant proportion of these receptors is located on dopaminergic neurons.