Six pairs of female squirrel monkeys were given a daily intraperitoneal injection of 1-methyl-4-phenyl-1,2,3,6-tetrahydropyridine (MPTP) for 9-14 days, beginning the same day on which they received either a bilateral 6-hydroxydopamine lesion or a sham lesion of the locus coeruleus. Sham animals developed typical parkinsonian signs (i.e. tremor, bradykinesia, hypokinesia and reduced blink rate) which largely recovered by six to nine weeks after the start of MPTP treatment. At nine weeks, post mortem levels of striatal dopamine in these same animals were partially reduced (by 45%), and this only in the putamen, compared to values obtained from three non-operated, normal control animals. Additionally, histological examination revealed a moderate loss of neuronal cell bodies in the substantia nigra, pars compacta. In marked contrast, the locus coeruleus-lesioned monkeys exhibited little or no recovery from the parkinsonian signs induced by MPTP. Post mortem examination of these animals revealed profound decreases in caudate (by 84%) and putamen (by 91%) dopamine content, and severe neuronal cell loss in the substantia nigra pars compacta of all animals. These neurological, biochemical and histological assessments indicate that lesioning of the locus coeruleus impairs the recovery which usually occurs from the parkinsonian manifestations induced by MPTP in squirrel monkeys. The results support the hypothesis that deficient locus coeruleus noradrenergic mechanisms underlie the progression of Parkinson's disease.