Dopaminergic neurons that project to the striatum from the substantia nigra are thought to modulate methionine-enkephalin (Met-Enk) metabolism in the striatum. We administered a dose of 1-methyl-4-phenyl-1,2,3,6-tetrahydropyridine (MPTP) that produces a moderate depletion of dopamine in striatum, about 50%, without overt motor deficits, and found that Met-Enk-like immunoreactivity and preproenkephalin mRNA content increased in the tissue. Pretreatment with the monoamine oxidase B inhibitor deprenyl or the dopamine transport blocker nomifensine prevented these changes, suggesting that the changes were related to the partial loss of dopaminergic neurons rather than to MPTP. Moreover, administering GM1 ganglioside, which partially restores the MPTP-induced dopaminergic deficit, partially corrected the Met-Enk changes in the striatum as well. These findings are consistent with the hypothesis that dopaminergic input to the striatum, in part, modulates Met-Enk metabolism. Moreover, they show that moderate nigrostriatal lesions are sufficient to elevate Met-Enk and preproenkephalin mRNA contents and that restoration of dopaminergic function, as in our studies with GM1 ganglioside, restores the content of Met-Enk.