Spontaneous locomotor activity and the locomotor response to amphetamine and apomorphine were studied in rats subjected to either radiofrequency (RF), 6-hydroxydopamine (6-OHDA) or both RF and 6-OHDA lesions of the mesolimbic dopamine (DA) system. Large 6-OHDA lesions of the ventral tegmental area (VTA) or of the nucleus accumbens (N.Acc.) produced hypo-activity in the open field, a complete blockade of the locomotor stimulating effects of D-amphetamine and a profound supersensitive response to apomorphine as measured by a significant increase in locomotor activity as compared to sham-operated animals. In contrast, smaller 6-OHDA lesions of the VTA produced significant increases in spontaneous daytime and nocturnal activity with the biggest effect occurring at the lowest dose. RF lesions to the VTA produced even greater hyperactivity which was blocked by the addition of a 6-OHDA lesion to the N.Acc. The rats with RF lesions to VTA alone that were spontaneously hyperactive remained hyperactive after injection of amphetamine, whereas apomorphine produced a significant decrease in this hyperactivity. In contrast, the rats with the combined RF lesion and N.Acc. 6-OHDA lesion showed a blockade of the locomotor stimulating effects of D-amphetamine and a potentiated response to apomorphine identical to that observed with a N.Acc. lesion alone. All lesion groups revealed massive depletion of DA in the N.Acc. and anterior striatum with significantly greater depletions in those groups showing hypoactivity and hypo-responsiveness to amphetamine. All groups except the N.Acc. 6-OHDA alone group showed significant depletions of DA in the posterior striatum. Thus, limited destruction of the mesolimbic DA system can produce hyperactivity, but more extensive destruction of this system in the region of the N.Acc. and anterior striatum can reverse this hyperactivity and produce a hypo-responsiveness to the locomotor stimulating effects of amphetamine. These results suggest an essential role for dopamine in the expression of spontaneous and stimulant-induced activity. Furthermore, the much larger increase in spontaneous activity in the RF-VTA lesion group as compared to the VTA-6-OHDA groups suggests the presence of an, as yet unidentified, powerful inhibitory influence to the mesolimbic DA system within the midbrain tegmentum.