Parkinson's disease (PD) is characterized by a heterogeneous loss of dopaminergic neurons in the human mesencephalon affecting mainly the substantia nigra pars compacta (SNpc) and to a lesser extent the other dopaminergic cell groups. A rise in intracellular calcium concentrations represents one of the final events leading to nerve cell death. Calbindin D28k, a protein capable of buffering intracellular calcium concentrations is present in the dopaminergic neurons that are selectively preserved in PD but not in those that degenerate. To determine whether other calcium-binding proteins also represent putative protective factors of dopaminergic neurons in PD, we analyzed immunohistochemically the distribution of calretinin-containing (CR+) neurons, in the human mesencephalon of three control subjects and four patients with PD. No significant differences were observed between the number of CR+ neurons in the two subject groups. Sequential double immunostaining for calretinin and tyrosine hydroxylase showed a variable proportion of CR+ neurons among dopaminergic neurons: moderate co-localization was found in catecholaminergic cell group A8 and in the dorsal part of the ventral tegmental area (VTA) and low co-localization in the SNpc, the ventral part of the VTA and the central gray substance. This indicates that calretinin may only protect some dopaminergic neurons against degeneration in PD. Yet, in the SNpc a selective preservation of CR+ dopaminergic neurons was observed, suggesting a neuroprotective role in some dopaminergic cell groups only.