Dopamine (DA) was applied to rat hippocampal slices maintained in vitro. Extracellular and intracellular recording techniques were used to study the effect of DA on population responses, membrane potentials, and membrane responses to hyperpolarizing current pulses in CA1 pyramidal cells. Temporary exposure of hippocampal slices to DA has a dual effect. The initial action of DA is to produce a suppression of the extra-cellularly recorded population responses. In individual neurons, this initial effect is seen as a membrane hyperpolarization accompanied by a decrease in the amplitude of responses to hyperpolarizing current pulses. The frequency of occurrence of spontaneous depolarizations and spikes is reduced. The early action of DA is followed by a profound potentiation of the population responses that can last for hours. This long-lasting potentiation of the population response, induced by DA, is depressed by spiroperidol, a DA antagonist. In individual neurons, the late effect of DA is a long-lasting membrane depolarization associated with an increase in the amplitude of responses to hyperpolarizing current pulses. During this late phase, spontaneous activity is increased, as are single cell responses to stimulation of afferents. The evidence presented here indicates that DA is able to induce a long-lasting modification of the excitability of CA1 hippocampal neurons. This modulation of excitability by DA may be similar in nature to previously described DA-modulatory actions in the peripheral nervous system.