Glial-cell-line-derived neurotrophic factor (GDNF), a recently cloned new member of the transforming growth factor-beta superfamily, promotes survival of cultured fetal mesencephalic dopamine neurons and is expressed in the developing striatum. There have, however, been no reports about effects of GDNF in situ. We have used the dopaminergic neurotoxin 1-methyl-4-phenyl-1,2,3,6-tetrahydropyridine (MPTP), which produces parkinsonian symptoms in man, to determine whether GDNF might exert protective or regenerative effects in vivo in the adult nigrostriatal dopamine system in C57/B1 mice. GDNF injected over the substantia nigra or in striatum before MPTP potently protects the dopamine system, as shown by numbers of mesencephalic dopamine nerve cell bodies, dopamine nerve terminal densities and dopamine levels. When GDNF is given after MPTP, dopamine levels and fibre densities are significantly restored. In both cases, motor behaviour is increased above normal levels. We conclude that intracerebral GDNF administration exerts both protective and reparative effects on the nigrostriatal dopamine system, which may have implications for the development of new treatment strategies for Parkinson's disease.