The present study was undertaken to examine the adaptive changes occurring 1 and 6 months after moderate or severe unilateral 6-hydroxydopamine-induced lesions confined to the lateral part of the rat substantia nigra pars compacta (SNC). The expression of tyrosine hydroxylase (TH) enzyme was analyzed in the remaining dopaminergic nigral cell bodies and in the corresponding striatal nerve endings. In the cell bodies of the lesioned SNC, TH mRNA content was increased (+20 to +30%) 6 months after the lesion without changes in cellular TH protein amounts. The depletion of TH protein in the nerve terminal area was less severe than the percentage of cell loss observed in the SNC at 1- and 6-month postlesion intervals. Moreover, the decrease in TH protein in the ipsilateral striatum was less pronounced 6 months after lesion than 1 month after. That no corresponding change in TH protein content was observed in the cell bodies at a time when TH increased in nerve terminals suggests that the newly synthesized protein is probably rapidly transported to the striatal fibers. These results suggest the existence of a sequence of changes in TH expression between cell bodies and fibers, occurring spontaneously after partial denervation of the nigrostriatal pathway.