Glial-cell-line-derived neurotrophic factor (GDNF) promotes survival of embryonic dopaminergic neurons in culture, and its expression pattern suggests a role as a transient target-derived trophic factor for dopaminergic neurons of the substantia nigra. These neurons participate in the control of motor activity, emotional status and cognition, and they degenerate in Parkinson's disease for unknown reasons. To test whether GDNF has a trophic effect on dopaminergic neurons in the adult brain, we used a rat model in which these neurons are induced to degenerate by transecting their axons within the medial forebrain bundle. We report here that axotomy resulted in loss of half the tyrosine hydroxylase-expressing neurons in the substantia nigra. This loss was largely prevented by repeated injections of GDNF adjacent to the substantia nigra. Our findings suggest that GDNF or related molecules may be useful for the treatment of Parkinson's disease.