Changes taking place after unilateral 6-hydroxydopamine lesion of the dopaminergic nigrostriatal system have been studied by performing spontaneous, amphetamine-induced and apomorphine-induced rotational behaviour testing and tyrosine hydroxylase (TH) and Fos protein immunohistochemistry in the same rats. Apomorphine at a low dosage (0.25 mg/kg) induced contraversive rotation and supersensitive striatal Fos expression that were detected 24-48 h post-lesion and gradually increased in magnitude. Twenty-four hours after lesion, both high (5 mg/kg) and low doses (0.5 mg/kg) of D-amphetamine induced contraversive rotation and intense striatal Fos activation on the denervated side; however, only the higher dose induced Fos on the normal side. Two, 3 and 4 days after lesion, 0.5 mg/kg amphetamine induced contraversive rotation, but 5 mg/kg induced transitory contraversive rotation which switched to ipsiversive. In the normal striatum, only high doses of amphetamine induced Fos, but Fos induction in the denervated striatum was similar with both doses: areas showing severely decreased TH immunoreactivity still showed considerable Fos immunoreactivity, and some areas still showing TH immunoreactivity had higher Fos density than in the normal side. Seven and 14 days after lesion the loss of TH immunoreactivity and apomorphine-induced supersensitive Fos expression were more evenly distributed, and amphetamine induced only ipsiversive rotation and a low density of Fos-positive nuclei in the denervated striatum. These results indicate that the severe and progressive loss of dopaminergic terminals is counteracted by an early and rapidly progressing dopamine supersensitivity, together with a higher susceptibility to drug-induced dopamine release. This explains the apparently paradoxical contraversive rotation induced by amphetamine during the first week post lesion. However, experiments involving successive drug injections indicated that only the first amphetamine injection releases dopamine from the lesioned terminals.