Dopamine D1-like and D2-like receptors on peripheral blood lymphocytes (PBL) were assayed in 50 de novo patients with idiopathic Parkinson's disease (PD), in 36 neurologic control subjects (multiple-system atrophy, n = 16; essential tremor, n = 10; other neurodegenerative diseases, n = 10), and in 26 healthy control subjects by radioligand binding assay techniques using [3H]SCH 23390 and [3H]7OH-DPAT as ligands. Patients with PD revealed a higher density (Bmax) of dopamine D1-like (p <0.001) and D2-like (p <0.00001) receptors on PBL than either neurologic or healthy control subjects, whereas no differences in Bmax were observed among patients affected by other neurologic diseases and healthy control subjects. The affinity (Kd) of both radioligands was similar in the groups investigated. The pharmacologic profile of [3H]SCH 23390 and [3H]7OH-DPAT binding was consistent with the labeling of dopamine D5 and D3 receptor subtypes, respectively. Twenty-five of the 50 patients with PD were retested after 3 months of therapy with levodopa or bromocriptine. Both treatments reduced the density of D1-like (p <0.001) and D2-like (p <0.001) receptors on PBL to values comparable to those of control subjects. The increased density of D1-like and D2-like receptors on PBL in de novo PD patients may represent an upregulation mechanism resulting from the diffuse impairment of the dopaminergic system in PD.