Mouse brain synaptosomal preparations were used to study uptake of N-methyl-4-phenylpyridine (MPP+), a metabolite of the neurotoxin MPTP (1-methyl-4-phenyl-1,2,3,6-tetrahydropyridine). The uptake of [3H]-MPP+ by striatal synaptosomes was approximately 25 X greater than that of [3H]-MPTP, with a KM of 0.48 microM and a Vmax of 5.3 nmoles/g tissue/min. Uptake was Na+ dependent and inhibited by ouabain, cocaine and dopamine (Ki 0.12 microM). Synaptosomes prepared from the corpus striatum accumulated [3H]-MPP+ at a rate 5-10 times higher than preparations from other brain regions. This selective uptake of MPP+ may contribute to the specificity of the toxic effects of MPTP on nigrostriatal dopaminergic neurons.