Unexpected, biologically salient stimuli elicit a short-latency, phasic response in midbrain dopaminergic (DA) neurons. Although this signal is important for reinforcement learning, the information it conveys to forebrain target structures remains uncertain. One way to decode the phasic DA signal would be to determine the perceptual properties of sensory inputs to DA neurons. After local disinhibition of the superior colliculus in anesthetized rats, DA neurons became visually responsive, whereas disinhibition of the visual cortex was ineffective. As the primary source of visual afferents, the limited processing capacities of the colliculus may constrain the visual information content of phasic DA responses.