The ionic mechanisms by which dopamine (DA) regulates the excitability of layers V-VI prefrontal cortex (PFC) output neurons (including those that project to the nucleus accumbens) were investigated in rat brain slices using in vitro intracellular recording techniques. DA or the D1 receptor agonist SKF38393, but not the D2 agonist quinpirole, reduced the first spike latency and lowered the firing threshold of the PFC neurons in response to depolarizing current pulses. This was accomplished by enhancing the duration of a tetradotoxinsensitive, slowly inactivating Na+ current and attenuating a slowly inactivating, outwardly rectifying, dendrotoxin-sensitive K+ current. Furthermore, D1 receptor stimulation attenuated high-threshold Ca2+ spike(s) (HTS) evoked primarily from the apical dendrites of these PFC neurons. Taken together, these data suggest that D1 receptor stimulation on layers V- VI pyramidal PFC neurons: (1) restricts the effects of inputs to the apical dendrites of these neurons by attenuating the dendritic HTS- mediated amplification of such inputs; and (2) potentiates the influence of local inputs from neighboring deep layers V-VI neurons by enhancing the slowly inactivating Na+ current and attenuating the slowly inactivating K+ current. By influencing the input/output characteristics of PFC-->NAc neurons, DA may play an important role in the processes through which PFC signals are translated into action.