There is immunohistochemical evidence suggesting that glutamate (Glu) is released from nerve terminals and acts, via several receptor subtypes, as a major excitatory neurotransmitter in the cortico-striatal pathway of the rat. Aspartate (Asp) is also present in cortico-striatal neurons, but its role as a neurotransmitter has been questioned, since, in contrast to Glu, it has not been demonstrated in presynaptic vesicles. Glu and Asp can be found at submicroM concentrations in the extracellular compartment of most areas of the basal ganglia. Their concentrations are largely regulated by transport mechanisms, but also by a synaptotagmin-dependent exocytotic release, and are sufficiently high to occupy junctional and extrajunctional receptors. We have investigated whether Glu and Asp release in the neostriatum can be selectively modulated by different neuronal systems. Dopamine (DA) and cholecystokinin (CCK) selectively stimulate Asp release, via D1 and CCKB receptor subtypes, respectively. Also opioid kappa-agonists increase Asp release. We propose that the selective modulation of Asp release by D1-, CCKB- and kappa-agonists involves striatal neurons containing Asp, but not Glu. In contrast, local perfusion with the mu-opioid antagonist D-Phe-Cys-Tyr-D-Trp-Orn-Thr-Pen-Thr-NH2 (CTOP) increases both Glu and Asp release. This effect is probably exerted on cortico-striatal terminals, via presynaptic inhibitory mu-receptors. Thus, these results demonstrate that extracellular levels of Glu and Asp are modulated differentially by different neuronal systems, and suggest that in the neostriatum of the rat there are neuronal populations using Glu and/or Asp as messenger(s).