Chronic low-dose MPTP exposure was previously found to impair cognitive performance in monkeys. These monkeys developed deficits in performance of delayed response and delayed alternation tasks but maintained performance on visual pattern discrimination. This, along with other subtle behavioral changes, occurred in the absence of gross parkinsonian motor symptoms. The present study reports the results of neurochemical and neuropathological examination of the brains of these animals. Chronic low-dose MPTP exposure resulted in profound decreases in caudate dopamine (DA) levels and slightly less severe depletions in the putamen. Increases in striatal HVA/DA ratios suggest an increase in DA turnover in these areas. In contrast to striatal DA depletions, we found significant increases in striatal serotonin levels without an associated increase in serotonin turnover. At the cortical level, we found inconsistent changes in frontal cortical DA levels and variable decreases in norepinephrine levels. Since the most profound and consistent deficits were in the nigrostriatal dopamine system, we suggest that most of the behavioral consequences of chronic low-dose MPTP exposure stem from the striatal dopamine depletion. We also suggest that the maintenance of motor function in the presence of massive striatal DA depletions may be due to less impairment of putamen DA vs. caudate DA, by an increase in striatal DA turnover, a compensatory increase in serotonin availability, or a combination of these and possibly other as yet undetermined compensatory mechanisms. Furthermore, we propose the present model utilizing chronic low-dose exposure to MPTP as a model for the early, compensated form of Parkinson's disease.