A comparison was made between substance P (SP) and substance K (SK) in the ventral tegmental area (VTA) (A10 dopamine cell group) of the rat. Approximately equal densities of SP and SK-immunoreactive neuronal fibers were observed. However, while previous reports demonstrate negligible density of autoradiographically defined SP receptors in the VTA, we observed a high density of SK receptors. SK or SP was microinjected into the VTA, and changes in spontaneous motor activity were measured using a photocell apparatus. SK was found to be at least 10 times more potent than SP in producing an increase in motor activity. These data suggest that while both SK and SP are present in the VTA, SK may have a more significant physiological role in modulating dopamine neurons in the ventromedial mesencephalon.