Copper/zinc superoxide dismutase (Cu/Zn-SOD) is a major free radical scavenging enzyme. Increased Cu/Zn-SOD activity protects cells against oxidative stress mediated by different mechanisms. However, there is also in vitro and in vivo evidence that, in the absence of abnormal oxidative stress, chronic increased Cu/Zn-SOD activity is detrimental to living cells. To address this issue, we examined the fate of mature midbrain neurons from transgenic mice expressing human Cu/Zn-SOD and from their nontransgenic littermates. Midbrain from transgenic pups had about threefold higher Cu/Zn-SOD activity than that from nontransgenic pups. Virtually all transgenic neurons were strongly immunoreactive for human Cu/Zn-SOD protein in their cell bodies and processes. The number of midbrain neurons decreased over time in both transgenic and nontransgenic cultures, but to a significantly smaller extent in the transgenic cultures. Postnatal midbrain neurons died by either necrosis or apoptosis, and increased Cu/Zn-SOD activity attenuated both forms of cell death. Furthermore, increased Cu/Zn-SOD activity better prevented the loss of dopaminergic neurons than GABAergic neurons. We also found that neuronal processes were dramatically denser in transgenic cultures than in nontransgenic cultures. These results indicate that chronic increased Cu/Zn-SOD activity does not appear to be detrimental, but rather promotes cell survival and neuronal process development in postnatal midbrain neurons, probably by providing more efficient detoxification of free radicals. They also show that increased Cu/Zn-SOD activity does not seem to play a critical role in determining the mode of cell death in this culture system.