The purpose of the present study was to determine whether neurotensin acts within the arcuate nucleus/median eminence to activate tyrosine hydroxylase (TH) within tuberoinfundibular dopamine neurons. The role of Ca2+/phospholipid-dependent protein kinase (protein kinase-C) in the regulation of TH and its involvement in the neurotensin-induced activation of TH within tuberoinfundibular dopamine (TIDA) neurons also was investigated. The activity of TH within TIDA neurons was assessed by quantification of the formation of 3,4-dihydroxyphenylalanine in the arcuate nucleus/median eminence after inhibition of 3,4-dihydroxyphenylalanine decarboxylase. Neurotensin (0.1-10 nM) increased the activity of TH within the arcuate nucleus/median eminence under in vitro conditions by approximately 80%. The activity of TH in the arcuate nucleus/median eminence also was increased approximately 55% by the phorbol ester 12-O-tetradecanoyl(phorbol-13-acetate) (1-100 nM), which activates protein kinase-C. Sphingosine (10 microM), an inhibitor of protein kinase-C, attenuated the activation of TH within TIDA neurons that was induced by both 12-O-tetradecanoyl(phorbol-13-acetate) and neurotensin. Sphingosine alone did not alter the activity of TH, nor did it alter the (Bu)2cAMP-induced activation of TH in the arcuate nucleus/median eminence. It is concluded that neurotensin acts directly within the arcuate nucleus/median eminence to activate TIDA neurons. Furthermore, it is suggested that the activity of TH within these neurons is enhanced after the activation of protein kinase-C and that protein kinase-C may mediate the neurotensin-induced activation of TH within these hypothalamic dopamine neurons.