In an attempt to define neurochemically the part played by 1-methyl-4-phenyl-1,2,3,6-tetrahydropyridine (MPTP) as a potential Parkinson's disease-inducing neurotoxin, we measured the tissue concentrations of the monoamines dopamine, noradrenaline and serotonin in 45 brain regions in nine rhesus monkeys (Macaca mulatta) receiving repeated intramuscular injections of a total amount of 2.1-7.5 mg/kg MPTP-HCl. Four monkeys treated with MPTP during a period of one to five weeks developed permanent Parkinsonism, and five animals receiving the neurotoxin during a period of two to seven months remained asymptomatic. We found that, compared with the distribution pattern established in the brain of seven normal (drug-free) rhesus monkeys, in the MPTP-treated monkeys none of the three major brain monoamine neuron systems was completely resistant to the neurotoxin. In addition, each brain monoamine had a characteristic regional pattern of MPTP-induced changes. As expected, the most significant alterations were found within the nigrostriatal dopamine system, i.e. profound dopamine loss in caudate nucleus, putamen and substantia nigra. However, many extrastriatal regions of the subcortex and brainstem also suffered significant loss of dopamine, with the noradrenaline loss in the regionally subdivided brainstem being less widespread, and the serotonin levels least affected. Thus, in subcortex/brainstem the ranking order of sensitivity to MPTP was: dopamine greater than noradrenaline much greater than serotonin. In the cerebral (neo- and limbic) cortex, all three monoamine neuron systems suffered widespread statistically significant losses. The ranking order of MPTP sensitivity of the cortical monoamines was: noradrenaline greater than serotonin greater than dopamine. In the cerebellar cortex, dopamine and noradrenaline concentrations were significantly reduced, whereas the serotonin level remained unchanged. A remarkable observation was that many of the subcortical and cortical changes found in the symptomatic monkeys were also found in the asymptomatic animals. Our data are compatible with several possible mechanisms by which MPTP may have produced the observed patterns of monoamine loss in the brain of the rhesus monkey. Our study demonstrates that in the rhesus monkey MPTP mimicked, in addition to the profound striatal dopamine loss, some of the extrastriatal dopamine, noradrenaline and serotonin changes often seen in the brain of patients with idiopathic Parkinson's disease. However, using our treatment regimen, we have not been able to reproduce in the rhesus monkey the inter-regional pattern of striatal dopamine loss typical of idiopathic Parkinson's disease, i.e. a significantly greater loss of dopamine in the putamen compared with the caudate nucleus.