In this study, the technique of extracellular single unit recording was used to examine the effect of prenatal cocaine exposure on the number of spontaneously active dopamine (DA) cells in the substantia nigra pars compacta (SNC or A9) and the ventral tegmental area (VTA or A10) of male Sprague-Dawley rats on postnatal days 56-68. In addition, the effect of the direct DA receptor agonist (+/-)-apomorphine (APO) on the basal firing rate of A10 DA cells was also determined. A significant decrease in the number of spontaneously active A10 DA cells was observed in offspring whose dams were treated with 40 mg/kg/day of cocaine s.c. from gestational days 8-20 when compared with offspring of pair-fed and non-treated control dams. The number of spontaneously active A9 DA cells was significantly decreased in the offspring of cocaine-exposed dams when compared to pair-fed offspring. In contrast, there were no significant differences among the three prenatal groups regarding the sensitivity of spontaneously active A10 DA cells to APO (2-64 micrograms/kg, i.v.). Overall, our results suggest that in utero cocaine exposure may alter presynaptic DA activity in offspring long after their exposure has been terminated.