Repeated administration of cocaine to rodents produces a progressive augmentation in motor activity known as behavioral sensitization. By using microdialysis in the ventral striatum, some studies have found that the development of behavioral sensitization is associated with a similar augmentation in dopamine release, while others have not. It was postulated that differences in doses and withdrawal periods may account for the discrepancies between studies. Rats were behaviorally sensitized to daily peripheral injections using two cocaine treatment regimens (15 mg/kg, i.p. x 5 d or 30 mg/kg, i.p. x 5 d). Using in vivo microdialysis in the ventral striatum, the effect of acute cocaine (15 mg/kg, i.p.) on extracellular dopamine content and motor behavior was examined at various times after discontinuing daily treatments. Twenty- four hours after discontinuing the low dose of daily cocaine, the increase in motor activity and extracellular dopamine elicited by an acute cocaine challenge was significantly elevated. In contrast, following the higher daily treatment regimen there was a significant augmentation in motor activity, but the increase in extracellular dopamine produced by cocaine was significantly reduced. When rats were challenged 10-14 d after discontinuing either dosage regimen of daily cocaine, the increase in both motor activity and extracellular dopamine was augmented. In general, the increase in extracellular dopamine by an acute cocaine challenge increased over time when rats were challenged between 1 and 22 d after discontinuing daily cocaine. Basal concentrations of extracellular dopamine were determined by measuring the in vivo flux of dopamine across the dialysis membrane, and there was no significant difference at 24 hr or 2 weeks following the last daily injection of saline or cocaine. It is concluded that behavioral sensitization to cocaine is generally associated with an augmentation in extracellular dopamine in the ventral striatum, but that high doses of daily cocaine produce apparent tolerance to the augmentation in extracellular dopamine during the early withdrawal period.