The distribution and origin of neurotensin-like immunoreactivity in the substantia nigra pars reticulata of the rat have been analysed using immunohistochemistry combined with different drug treatments and lesioning techniques. In normal rats, a distinct but weakly fluorescent network of neurotensin-immunoreactive fibers was found in the central part of the substantia nigra pars reticulata. When the animals were treated with reserpine, which suppresses dopamine transmission, a similar pattern of immunoreactivity was found, though the intensity of staining was slightly enhanced. However, when rats were treated with methamphetamine, a potent dopamine releaser, the intensity of immunoreactivity was dramatically increased. In particular, densely packed neurotensin-immunoreactive fibers were found at the dorsal border and at the ventral periphery of the substantia nigra pars reticulata. This pattern of immunoreactivity was found to be similar to that displayed by dynorphin. In the nucleus caudatus, several neurotensin-immunoreactive cell bodies were seen after reserpine treatment. Morphologically similar perikarya were observed in methamphetamine-treated rats, but they were less numerous, whereas no cell bodies were detectable in untreated animals. When a unilateral mechanical transection or an ibotenic acid injection was performed in the striatum, the patterns of neurotensin as well as dynorphin and substance P immunoreactivities in the substantia nigra pars reticulata were strongly affected. Both types of lesion caused a marked, parallel depletion of all three immunoreactive substances on the side ipsilateral to the lesion, where a restricted area was virtually devoid of immunoreactive elements. Thus the present study provides evidence for the existence of a unilateral neurotensin striatonigral pathway, terminating in the pars reticulata. The origin of the neurotensin fibers in the pars compacta has not been established but does not appear to be the caudate nucleus. These results together with evidence from the literature suggest that methamphetamine induced a massive release of dopamine from nigral dendrites acting on presynaptic D1 dopamine receptors located on neurotensinergic terminals leading to a marked increase in neurotensin-like immunoreactivity in the pars reticulata.