Fischer 344 rats were unilaterally injected into the medial forebrain bundle with 6-hydroxydopamine (6-OHDA). Apomorphine-induced rotational behavior was used to select animals whose rotation exceeded 300 turns/h, corresponding to greater than 95% dopamine (DA) depletion in the ipsilateral striatum. Four weeks later, glial cell line-derived neurotrophic factor (GDNF) or vehicle was injected intranigrally ipsilateral to the lesion (0.1-100 micrograms). The highest dose of GDNF tested produced a marked decrease in rotational behavior. This dose also produced levels of DA in the ipsilateral substantia nigra (SN) which were not statistically different from the contralateral side. Vehicle-treated animals showed a marked DA depletion in the ipsilateral SN. These results demonstrate neurochemical and behavioral improvements in unilaterally DA-lesioned rats following intranigral administration of GDNF, suggesting that GDNF may develop into a useful therapy for Parkinson's disease.