The modulation of 3,4-dihydroxyphenylethylamine (dopamine, DA) synthesis and release in rabbit retina in vitro by high K+; adenylate cyclase activators such as forskolin, 2-chloroadenosine, vasoactive intestinal polypeptide (VIP); and the putative DA autoreceptor agonist N-n-propyl-3-(3-hydroxyphenyl) piperidine (3-PPP) has been investigated. Incubation of retinas in 50 mM K+ resulted in the activation of tyrosine hydroxylase (TH). Activation did not require the presence of extracellular Ca2+. K+ 50 mM also induced a Ca2+-dependent release of DA. Forskolin 50 microM stimulated TH but 100 microM 2-chloroadenosine and 650 nM VIP did not. Individually, (+)-3-PPP, (-)-3-PPP, and (+/-)-3-PPP reduced DA synthesis and increased its release. The effects of (+/-)-3-PPP were dose-dependent and did not require the presence of extracellular Ca2+. The activation of TH induced by 50 mM K+, but not that induced by 50 microM forskolin, was abolished by 100 microM (+/-)-3-PPP.