We have used a rat model of Parkinson's disease (PD) to address issues of importance for a future clinical application of dopamine (DA) neuron grafting in patients with PD. Human mesencephalic DA neurons, obtained from 6.5-8 week old fetuses, were found to survive intracerebral cell suspension xenografting to the striatum of rats immunosuppressed with Cyclosporin A. The grafts produced an extensive new DA-containing terminal network in the previously denervated caudate-putamen, and they normalized amphetamine-induced, apomorphine-induced and spontaneous motor asymmetry in rats with unilateral lesions of the mesostriatal DA pathway. Grafts from an 11.5-week old donor exhibited a lower survival rate and smaller functional effects. As assessed with the intracerebral dialysis technique the grafted DA neurons were found to restore spontaneous DA release in the reinnervated host striatum to normal levels. The neurons responded with large increases in extracellular striatal DA levels after the intrastriatal administration of the DA-releasing agent d-amphetamine and the DA-reuptake blocker nomifensine, although not to the same extent as seen in striata with an intact mesostriatal DA system. DA fiber outgrowth from the grafts was dependent on the localization of the graft tissue. Thus, grafts located within the striatum gave rise to an extensive axonal network throughout the whole host striatum, whereas grafted DA neurons localized in the neocortex had their outgrowing fibers confined within the grafts themselves. In contrast to the good graft survival and behavioural effects obtained in immunosuppressed rats, there was no survival, or behavioural effects, of human DA neurons implanted in rats that did not receive immunosuppression. In addition, we found that all the graft recipients were immunized, having formed antibodies against antigens present on human T-cells. This supports the notion that the human neurons grafted to the non-immunosuppressed rats underwent immunological rejection. Based on an estimation of the survival rate and extent of fiber outgrowth from the grafted human fetal DA neurons, we suggest that DA neurons that can be obtained from one fetus may be sufficient to restore significant DA neurotransmission unilaterally, in one putamen, in an immunosuppressed PD patient.