In vivo brain microdialysis was used to monitor changes in dopamine (DA) release in the nucleus accumbens (NAc) during anticipatory and consummatory components of feeding behavior. During 10 daily training sessions, rats were first confined to one compartment of a testing chamber for 10 minutes. During this period (anticipatory phase) they were prevented from gaining access to a highly palatable liquid meal by a wire mesh screen. The screen was then removed and the animals were permitted to consume the meal for 20 min (consummatory phase). On removal of the screen, the latency to begin drinking decreased and the amount consumed increased as a function of days of training, both measures reaching asymptotic levels by day 7. Trained animals were implanted with dialysis probes in the NAc on day 10, and on day 12 DA release was monitored during the feeding session. Compared to controls, trained animals failed to show significantly greater increases in accumbal DA release during the anticipatory phase, all groups showing small (approximately 10%) increases on being placed in the test chamber. In contrast, compared to controls, DA release increased significantly in the NAc during consumption of the palatable meal. The magnitude of this increase was significantly enhanced (30% vs 71% peak increase) in animals that were 20 hr food deprived at the time of testing. The latter animals also showed a statistically significant increase (24%) in DA release during the anticipatory phase. A subsequent experiment in which consumption of the palatable liquid was limited to 5 ml in deprived and nondeprived animals indicated that only part of the deprivation-induced potentiation of accumbal DA release could be attributed to the larger volume consumed by the deprived animals. That is, the same volume and rate of consumption of a small amount of the liquid diet produced a significantly greater increase in accumbal DA release in deprived than in nondeprived animals (42% vs 23% peak increase). Feeding-induced increases in accumbal DA release were not due to postingestional factors as direct injections of the liquid diet into the stomach by gavage failed to produce this effect. The results of these experiments indicate (1) that consummatory rather than anticipatory aspects of feeding are robustly associated with increases in DA release in the NAc, and (2) that motivational state can influence the magnitude of the neurochemical events that are associated with goal- directed behaviors.