To examine how mGlu2/3 metabotropic glutamate receptors affect nigro-striatal degeneration, we used the agonist, LY379268, and the antagonist, LY341495, in mice challenged with the nigro-striatal toxin 1-methyl-4-phenyl-1,2,3,6-tetrahydropyridine (MPTP). In control mice, high doses of MPTP (20 mg/kg, i.p., injected four times with 2 h of interval) induced a nearly total degeneration of the nigro-striatal pathway, as shown by measurements of striatal dopamine (DA) levels and by immunohistochemical analysis of tyrosine hydroxylase, high affinity dopamine transporter, and glial fibrillary acidic protein in the corpus striatum and substantia nigra. Lower cumulative doses of MPTP (30 mg/kg, i.p., injected only once) produced a partial lesion of the nigro-striatal pathway (about 50% reduction of striatal DA content). Systemic injection of LY379268 (1 mg/kg, i.p., 30 min prior to each injection of MPTP) partially reduced the extent of nigro-striatal degeneration induced by high doses of MPTP. Similar results were obtained by continuously delivering LY379268 (1 mg/kg/d for 7 d) by means of a subcutaneous osmotic minipump. The protective effect of LY379268 was antagonized by LY341495 (also delivered by the osmotic minipump). In mice challenged with the lower cumulative dose of MPTP, injection of LY379268 did not produce a significant neuroprotective effect. In contrast, the lesion was amplified by the antagonist, LY341495. Neither LY379268 nor LY341495 influenced the central bioavailability and the local half-life of MPTP, as shown by measurements of the toxin and its active metabolite, MPP(+), in the striatum. We conclude that mGlu2/3 receptors play a protective role against MPTP toxicity, and that the efficacy of the agonist, LY379268, critically depends on the extent of the nigro-striatal lesion.