The nucleus accumbens (NAcc) has been hypothesized to be a critical component of the circuit mediating opiate-seeking behaviors. To further explore the electrophysiological correlates of opiate-seeking behavior, we recorded neurons in the NAcc and in the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) of rats trained to self-administer heroin for at least 2 weeks. Rats were trained to lever press (FR-1 schedule) for an intravenous (i.v.) infusion of heroin (0.06 mg/kg/injection) in an operant chamber. Spontaneous single unit activity in the NAcc and the mPFC was then recorded while animals were allowed to self-administer heroin. Our data suggest that about 20% (8/42) of the NAcc neurons studied exhibited an inhibitory response immediately after heroin self-administration. However, most of the NAcc neurons studied (76%; 32/42) were not affected during heroin self-administration. In contrast, noncontingent injection of a similar dose of heroin (0.06 mg/kg/injection) had no effect on NAcc spontaneous activity (0/6). On the other hand, passive administration of higher doses of heroin (0.2-0.6/mg/kg/injection) markedly suppressed the firing rate in 46% (6/13) of the neurons studied. These effects of heroin on NAcc activity were antagonized by systemic administration ofnaloxone (4-6 mg/kg, i.v.). Studies characterizing the responses of mPFC neurons during heroin self-administration showed that 40% (2/5) of the neurons tested exhibited an inhibitory effect immediately after heroin self-administration. These data suggest that in animals well-trained to self-administer heroin, only a small number (20%) of the NAcc neurons studied responded to heroin self-administration. Further research is necessary to determine whether these responses are a function of the opiate-seeking state of the animal and the mechanism(s) responsible for these effects of heroin.