In the MPTP-treated primate model of Parkinson's disease, loss of dopaminergic afferents to the striatum leads to increased activity in striatal efferents to the external segment of the globus pallidus. This pathway utilizes both GABA and enkephalin as cotransmitters. Little is known regarding either the role of this cotransmission in the generation of parkinsonian symptoms or of the nature of any functional interaction between GABA and enkephalin. We have investigated the roles played by enkephalin and GABA in mediating parkinsonian symptoms by injection the GABAA antagonist bicuculline and the broad spectrum opioid antagonist naloxone directly into the globus pallidus in the reserpine-treated rat model of parkinsonism. Injections of bicuculline, but not naloxone, had marked antiparkinsonian effects. However, naloxone attenuated the antiparkinsonian effects of bicuculline. We interpret these findings as suggesting that increased GABAergic transmission in the globus pallidus is responsible for the generation of parkinsonian symptoms in the reserpine-treated rat. However, overactive enkephalinergic transmission is not responsible for the generation of symptoms and appears to act to reduce the effects of increased GABAergic transmission. In complementary studies in vitro, we have demonstrated a potential mechanism for this negative interaction. Met-enkephalin (3-10 microM) reduced depolarization-evoked release of GABA from terminals in slices prepared from rat globus pallidus (IC50, 0.38 microM). A better comprehension of the mechanisms by which enkephalin and other peptides modulate the action of amino acid transmitters in the basal ganglia is critical to the understanding of the neural processes underlying basal ganglia function and movement disorders.