To examine the intrinsic properties of postnatal mesolimbic dopamine (DA) neurons, we dissociated the ventral tegmental area (VTA) from postnatal rats, enriched for DA neurons by microdissection or gradient purification, and grew the cells in culture. In these cultures, up to 50% of neurons were dopaminergic. DA neurons resembled their in vivo counterparts in soma shapes, and in showing two levels of tyrosine hydroxylase (TH) expression, axodendritic differentiation, two sizes of synaptic vesicles, nest-like synaptic arrangements with non-DA cells, and synaptic specializations. Electrophysiologically, however, they could not be distinguished from non-DA cells, which could be consistent with heterogeneity in cell properties. To examine a functional subset of VTA DA neurons, we retrogradely labeled VTA neurons projecting to the nucleus accumbens. These mesoaccumbens neurons were 86% TH positive, 56% cholecystokinin positive, and 0% neurotensin positive; they also displayed the soma shapes characteristic of DA neurons more generally and two levels of TH expression. Like their in vivo counterparts, mesoaccumbens cells generally fired single broad spikes that were triggered by slow depolarizations and had robust spike afterhyperpolarizations, low- and high-threshold Ca2+ spikes, rapid accommodation of firing, time-dependent anomalous rectification, and hyperpolarizing autoreceptor responses. Strikingly, the expression of these active properties did not change with time in culture. Mesoaccumbens DA cells could be identified by a distinctive subset of properties that made up an electrophysiological signature; however, unlike their in vivo counterparts, they were less often spontaneously active and never fired in bursts. These results suggest that most DA cell properties are intrinsic to the cells, including a significant heterogeneity that is maintained in postnatal culture; their level and mode of activity, however, appear to require afferent input. Culturing identified postnatal VTA DA neurons now makes possible examination of the impact of their individual properties on synaptic function.