The effects of exposure to acute mild footshock stress on concentrations of neurotensin-, somatostatin-, and corticotropin-releasing factor-like immunoreactivity (li) in mesotelencephalic dopamine system regions of the rat were examined. Mild stress exposure resulted in a selective and regionally specific increase in neurotensin-li concentrations in the ventral tegmental area (VTA), source of the dopaminergic innervation of the mesocortical and mesolimbic dopaminergic terminal fields. Concentrations of somatostatin- or corticotropin-releasing factor-li were not changed in any area examined. Levels of the dopamine metabolite, 3,4-dihydroxyphenylacetic acid, were increased only in the VTA and medial prefrontal cortex. These data suggest that neurotensin in the VTA may be involved in environmentally elicited activation of certain mesotelencephalic dopamine neurons.