To examine the development of daily variations in dopamine levels, we measured dopamine concentrations within five distinct brainstem regions in 3- and 21-day-old, and adult rabbits at 09.30, 15.30, 21.30 and 03.30 h. Dopamine was measured by radioenzymatic assay and the dopamine concentration was expressed relative to wet tissue weight. In addition to defining the presence of a daily variation in the dopamine concentration in the whole brainstem, we were interested in identifying brainstem region-specific differences in this daily variation. Our data suggest that daily variations in dopamine concentrations are established by 3 days of life. Analysis of gross brainstem daily variation data suggest a peak in the dopamine concentration during the early light phase (09.30 h) for 3-day-old animals in contrast to a late light phase peak (15.30 h) for 21-day-old animals. Adult animals showed a peak in the early dark phase (21.30 h). These gross daily variations reflect the net sum of distinct region-specific patterns in the dopamine concentration. Analysis by region reflects a region-specific ontogeny in the development of daily variations for dopamine. Dopamine is involved in cardiorespiratory regulation. The observed developmental patterns may relate to the maturation and integration of these physiologic processes.