The expression of preproenkephalin messenger RNA was studied in the brain of Parkinson disease (PD) patients using in situ hybridization. All these patients were treated with levodopa (LD) and the development of motor complications was recorded. Eleven normal controls and 14 PD patients were used, of which 4 developed dyskinesias, 3 developed wearing-off, 3 developed both dyskinesias and wearing-off, and 4 developed no adverse effect following dopaminomimetic therapy. Nigrostriatal denervation was similar between the subgroups of PD patients as assessed using 125I-RTI-specific binding to the dopamine transporter and measures of catecholamine concentrations by HPLC. A significant increase of preproenkephalin messenger RNA levels was observed in the lateral putamen of dyskinetic patients in comparison to controls (+210%; p < 0.01) and in comparison to nondyskinetic patients (+112%; p < 0.05). No change was observed in medial parts of the putamen or in the caudate nucleus. No relationship between preproenkephalin messenger RNA levels and other clinical variables such as development of wearing-off, age of death, duration of disease, or duration of LD therapy was found. These findings suggest that increase synthesis of preproenkephalin in the medium spiny output neurons of the striatopallidal pathway play a role in the development of dyskinesias following long-term LD therapy in Parkinson disease.