The effect of ethanol (0.25 to 4 g/kg) on the number of Fos-like immunoreactive (Fos-li) neurons was studied in the C57BL/6J (B6) and DBA/2J (D2) inbred mouse strains. The brain regions emphasized in the analysis were from the basal ganglia and some associated limbic nuclei. The question addressed was whether or not the D2 and B6 strains differed in these regions in a way that could explain the marked psychomotor stimulation of the D2, but not the B6, strain over the dose range of 1 to 2 g/kg of ethanol. Over the dose range of 0.25 to 2 g/kg, ethanol caused a modest increase in the number of Fos-li neurons within the caudate putamen (dorsolateral and dorsomedial) and the nucleus accumbens (core and shell), but there were no marked strain effects. There was no significant effect in either strain of ethanol treatment (0.25 to 2 g/kg) in the globus pallidus, ventral pallidum, and subthalamic nucleus. However, at 4 g/kg, there was a dramatic (>100%) increase of Fos-li neurons in the D2 but not B6 strain. A similar effect was noted in the entopeduncular nucleus, the substantia nigra zona reticulata (and compacta), but not the ventral tegmental area. A marked and substantial (>200%) Fos response was seen in the central amygdaloid nucleus (CeA) of the D2 strain over the entire dose range; in contrast, a substantial Fos response in the B6 strain was seen only at the 4 g/kg dose. The paraventricular thalamic nucleus, in general, paralleled data in the CeA; but, the Fos response was more modest, and the results for the D2 strain were significant only at the 2 g/kg dose. Overall, data suggest that ethanol at low to moderate doses induces significant, strain-dependent Fos responses in some limbic structures, but not in the basal ganglia. The possibility is considered that activation of some neurons in the CeA are permissive for expression of the ethanol-induced increase in motor activity.