We have performed a 14-month, prospective, randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study to evaluate the effect of deprenyl and levodopa/carbidopa (Sinemet) on the progression of signs and symptoms in patients with mild Parkinson's disease (PD). One hundred one untreated PD patients were randomly assigned to one of the following four treatment groups: Group I, deprenyl + Sinemet; Group II, placebo-deprenyl + Sinemet; Group III, deprenyl + bromocriptine; and Group IV, placebo-deprenyl + bromocriptine. The final visit was performed at 14 months, i.e., 2 months after withdrawal of deprenyl or its placebo and 7 days after withdrawal of Sinemet or bromocriptine. Deterioration in Unified Parkinson's Disease Rating Score (UPDRS) between untreated baseline and final visits was used as an index of disease progression. Placebo-treated patients deteriorated by 5.8 +/- 1.4 points, while deprenyl-treated patients deteriorated by 0.4 +/- 1.3 points (p < 0.001). This effect was sufficiently powerful that a significant deprenyl effect could be detected in the subgroup of 41 patients randomized to Sinemet (p < 0.01) as well as in the 23 patients who completed a 14-day washout of Sinemet or bromocriptine (p < 0.05). No difference in the extent of deterioration was detected in patients randomized to Sinemet versus bromocriptine. This study demonstrates that deprenyl attenuates deterioration in UPDRS score in patients with early PD. These findings are not readily explained by the drug's symptomatic effects and are consistent with the hypothesis that deprenyl has a neuroprotective effect.