The Wnt family of lipoproteins regulates several aspects of the development of the nervous system. Recently, we reported that Wnt-3a enhances the proliferation of midbrain dopaminergic precursors and that Wnt-5a promotes their differentiation into dopaminergic neurones. Here we report the purification of hemagglutinin-tagged Wnt-5a using a three-step purification method similar to that previously described for Wnt-3a. Haemagglutinin-tagged Wnt-5a was biologically active and induced the differentiation of immature primary midbrain precursors into tyrosine hydroxylase-positive dopaminergic neurones. Using a substantia nigra-derived dopaminergic cell line (SN4741), we found that Wnt-5a, unlike Wnt-3a, did not promote beta-catenin phosphorylation or stabilization. However, both Wnt-5a and Wnt-3a activated dishevelled, as assessed by a phosphorylation-dependent mobility shift. Moreover, the activity of Wnt-5a on dishevelled was blocked by pre-treatment with acyl protein thioesterase-1, indicating that palmitoylation of Wnt-5a is necessary for its function. Thus, our results suggest that Wnt-3a and Wnt-5a, respectively, activate canonical and non-canonical Wnt signalling pathways in ventral midbrain dopaminergic cells. Furthermore, we identify dishevelled as a key player in transducing both Wnt canonical and non-canonical signals in dopaminergic cells.