Ethanol increases taurine efflux in the nucleus accumbens or ventral striatum (VS), a dopaminergic terminal region involved in positive reinforcement. However, this has been found only at ethanol doses above 1 g/kg intraperitoneally, which is higher than what most rats will self-administer. We used a sensitive on-line assay of microdialysate content to test whether lower doses of ethanol selectively increase taurine efflux in VS as opposed to other dopaminergic regions not involved in reinforcement (e.g., dorsal striatum; DS). Adult male rats with microdialysis probes in VS or DS were injected with ethanol (0, 0.5, 1, and 2 g/kg intraperitoneally), and the amino acid content of the dialysate was measured every 11 sec using capillary electrophoresis and laser-induced fluorescence detection. In VS, 0.5 g/kg ethanol significantly increased taurine levels by 20% for 10 min. A similar increase was seen after 1 g/kg ethanol, which lasted for about 20 min after injection. A two-phased taurine efflux was observed with the 2.0 g/kg dose, where taurine was increased by 2-fold after 5 min but it remained elevated by 30% for at least 60 min. In contrast, DS exhibited much smaller dose-related increases in taurine. Glycine, glutamate, serine, and γ-aminobutyric acid were not systematically affected by lower doses of ethanol; however, 2 g/kg slowly decreased these amino acids in both brain regions during the hour after injection. These data implicate a possible role of taurine in the mechanism of action of ethanol in the VS. The high sensitivity and time resolution afforded by capillary electrophoresis and laser-induced fluorescence detection will be useful for detecting subtle changes of neuronally active amino acids levels due to low doses of ethanol.