Hyperoxidation phenomena are suspected to be involved in dopaminergic cell death in Parkinson's disease, which affects preferentially the neuromelanin-containing dopaminergic neurons of the substantia nigra. Glutathione peroxidase is the major protective enzyme against hydrogen peroxide toxicity. The distribution of glutathione peroxidase-containing cells was investigated by immunohistochemistry in the midbrain of four control subjects and four patients with Parkinson's disease. (1) Glutathione peroxidase-like immunoreactivity was detected exclusively in glial cells. (2) In control brains, the density of glutathione peroxidase-positive cells was higher in the vicinity of the dopaminergic cell groups known to be resistant to the pathological process of Parkinson's disease. (3) In Parkinson's disease, an increased density of glutathione peroxidase-immunostained cells was observed, surrounding the surviving dopaminergic neurons. The increase in glutathione peroxidase-containing cells was correlated with the severity in dopaminergic cell loss in the respective cell groups. The data suggest that in control brains, a low density of glutathione peroxidase-positive cells surround the dopaminergic neurons the most vulnerable to Parkinson's disease, and that in parkinsonian brains, the increased number of glutathione peroxidase-positive cells may contribute to protect neurons against pathological death. Thus, the amount of glutathione peroxidase protein-containing cells may be critical for a protective effect against oxidative stress, although it cannot be excluded that the level of the enzyme activity remains the crucial factor.