The pathogenesis of Parkinson's disease (PD) has been linked to oxidative-mediated events including increased monoamine oxidase (MAO) and free-radical generation. We are investigating the ability of the MAO inhibitor, selegiline (deprenyl), and of the free-radical scavenger, tocopherol, to delay the onset of disability requiring levodopa therapy (primary end point) in patients with early PD. Eight hundred patients with early, untreated PD were enrolled in the multi-center placebo-controlled, double-blind clinical trial 'Deprenyl and Tocopherol Antioxidative Therapy of Parkinsonism (DATATOP)'. Subjects were assigned by 2 x 2 factorial design to receive selegiline (10 mg/day), tocopherol (2,000 IU/day), a combination of both drugs, or placebo, and followed to determine if and when disability occurred requiring levodopa therapy. After 12 +/- 5 months of observation, independent monitoring prompted a preliminary analysis indicating that selegiline 10 mg/day significantly extended the time to the primary end point. Selegiline therapy, alone or in combination with tocopherol, resulted in a 57% reduction in the rate of developing disability requiring levodopa therapy (p < 10(-10)) and a 50% reduction in the rate of loss of full-time employment (p = 0.01). Deterioration of motor and mental features was significantly less in selegiline-treated subjects. Adverse effects were minor and infrequent. We conclude from these preliminary results that selegiline (10 mg/day) delays the onset of disability associated with early, otherwise untreated PD. It remains unclear whether these benefits derive from mechanisms that are symptomatic (dopaminergic), protective (anti-neurotoxic), or both. The DATATOP study is ongoing to examine the long-term effects of selegiline and the independent and interactive effects of tocopherol.