The ventral striatum is characterized by an intricate neurochemical compartmentation that is reflected in the distribution of most of its afferent fiber systems. In the present study, the compartmental relationships of ventral striatal neurons projecting to the mesencephalon were studied by combining tract tracing with the immunohistochemical localization of leu-enkephalin. Injections of the retrograde tracer cholera toxin subunit B were placed at various sites in the ventral mesencephalon. The anterograde tracer Phaseolus vulgaris leucoagglutinin was injected in single compartments in the rostrolateral part of the nucleus accumbens. The projections from the ventral striatum to the dopaminergic cell groups in the ventral mesencephalon and those to the substantia nigra pars reticulata originate from distinct subpopulations of ventral striatal neurons that respect neurochemically defined compartmental boundaries. In the “shell” of the nucleus accumbens, neurons that project to the dopaminergic cell groups are located outside areas of high cell density and weak enkephalin immunoreactivity (ENK-IR). Rostrolaterally in the “core” of the nucleus accumbens, neurons inside large areas of strong ENK-IR surrounding the anterior commissure project to the dorsomedial part of the substantia nigra pars reticulata, whereas neurons outside these areas innervate the ventral tegmental area and/or the medial part of the substantia nigra pars compacta. By contrast, more caudally in the dorsal part of the nucleus accumbens and in the ventral part of the caudate-putamen, the relationships are reversed: neurons in- or outside small patches of strong ENK-IR project respectively to the pars compacta or the pars reticulata of the substantia nigra. Since the thalamic and cortical afferents of the ventral striatum are compartmentally ordered as well, the present results imply that through the ventral striatal compartments information from disparate combinations of cortical and thalamic sources may be conveyed to distinct mesencephalic targets. The component of the ventral striatomesencephalic system reaching the dopaminergic cell groups A10, A9, and A8 may modulate the dopaminergic input to virtually the entire striatum. The other component can, by way of the pars reticulata of the substantia nigra, participate in nigrothalamic and nigrotectal output pathways of the basal ganglia.