The physiological effects of dopamine (DA) are mediated by several distinct receptor subtypes. The effects of unilateral nigral 6-hydroxydopamine (6-OHDA) lesions on DA receptors were investigated by receptor autoradiography using the D1 selective ligand [3H]SCH 23390 as well as the D2 ligand [3H]spiroperidol. mRNA distribution was studied by in situ hybridization. Lesioned rats were sacrificed at different time intervals. Receptor binding studies were performed on tissue sections using selective ligands. [35S]UTP labeled RNA probes were prepared from the different cDNA (D1, D2, D3) and used for in situ hybridization. A specific loss of receptor binding sites and mRNA hybridization was found in the lesioned substantia nigra pars compacta (SNc) at all times examined. Receptor binding studies revealed a different time-dependent increase in both D1 and D2 receptors. In situ hybridization showed that only D2 receptor mRNA increased in the caudate-putamen (CPu) of the lesioned side 15 d after 6-OHDA. No changes were observed in D1 and D3 receptor mRNA during the entire time-course.