In order to examine the consequences of nigrostriatal denervation on metabolic and functional activity of the basal ganglia, we analysed the distribution of cytochrome oxidase, a metabolic marker for neuronal functional activity, throughout the different basal ganglia structures in parkinsonian syndromes. The study was performed using enzyme histochemistry and densitometric measurements in patients with Parkinson's disease and in monkeys rendered parkinsonian by 1-methyl-4-phenyl-1,2,3,6-tetrahydropyrydine (MPTP) intoxication. In MPTP-intoxicated monkeys compared to control animals, enzyme activity was significantly increased in the subthalamic nucleus and in the output nuclei of the basal ganglia, e.g. the internal segment of the globus pallidus and the substantia nigra pars reticulata, but remained unchanged in the external segment of the globus pallidus and the striatum. L-DOPA treatment reversed the increased enzyme activity in all of the affected structures studied. In contrast, in parkinsonian patients, who had all been chronically treated with L-DOPA, no changes in enzyme activity were detected compared to control subjects. The results in MPTP-intoxicated monkeys are in agreement with the accepted model of basal ganglia organization, in which the output nuclei of the basal ganglia are considered to be overactive after nigrostriatal denervation, partly due to increased activity of excitatory afferents from the subthalamic nucleus. Since the increased enzyme activity in MPTP-intoxicated monkeys was reversed by L-DOPA therapy, the unchanged cytochrome oxidase activity observed in parkinsonian patients might result from L-DOPA treatment, combined with the chronicity of nigrostriatal denervation.