Previous studies suggest that there is a dopamine lowering process during major depressive episodes (MDE). To investigate this, we measured the dopamine transporter binding potential (DAT BP) in the striatum of depressed and healthy subjects using [(11)C]RTI-32 PET. The DAT, a predominantly presynaptic receptor, decreases in density after chronic dopamine depletion and the BP is proportional to receptor density. In all striatal regions, subjects with MDE had significantly lower DAT BP. Low striatal DAT BP in MDE is consistent with a downregulation of DAT in response to a dopamine lowering process. There was also a strong, highly significant, inverse correlation between striatal DAT BP and neuropsychological tests of dopamine-implicated symptoms in patients (i.e. patients with lower DAT BP performed better). Lower DAT BP itself reduces extracellular clearance of dopamine. Patients who did not decrease their striatal DAT BP failed to compensate for low dopamine and showed greater impairment on dopamine related tests.