Current concepts of the pathogenesis of Parkinson's disease (PD) center on the formation of reactive oxygen species and the onset of oxidative stress leading to oxidative damage to substantia nigra pars compacta. Extensive postmortem studies have provided evidence to support the involvement of oxidative stress in the pathogenesis of PD; in particular, these include alterations in brain iron content, impaired mitochondrial function, alterations in the antioxidant protective systems (most notably superoxide dismutase [SOD] and reduced glutathione [GSH]), and evidence of oxidative damage to lipids, proteins, and DNA. Iron can induce oxidative stress, and intranigral injections have been shown to induce a model of progressive parkinsonism. A loss of GSH is associated with incidental Lewy body disease and may represent the earliest biochemical marker of nigral cell loss. GSH depletion alone may not result in damage to nigral neurons but may increase susceptibility to subsequent toxic or free radical exposure. The nature of the free radical species responsible for cell death in PD remains unknown, but there is evidence of involvement of hydroxyl radical (OH.), peroxynitrite, and nitric oxide. Indeed, OH. and peroxynitrite formation may be critically dependent on nitric oxide formation. Central to many of the processes involved in oxidative stress and oxidative damage in PD are the actions of monoamine oxidase-B (MAO-B). MAO-B is essential for the activation of 1-methyl-4-phenyl-1,2,3,6-tetrahydropyridine to 1-methyl-4-phenylpyridinium ion, for a component of the enzymatic conversion of dopamine to hydrogen peroxide (H2O2), and for the activation of other potential toxins such as isoquinolines and beta-carbolines. Thus, the inhibition of MAO-B by drugs such as selegiline may protect against activation of some toxins and free radicals formed from the MAO-B oxidation of dopamine. In addition, selegiline may act through a mechanism unrelated to MAO-B to increase neurotrophic factor activity and upregulate molecules such as glutathione, SOD, catalase, and BCL-2 protein, which protect against oxidant stress and apoptosis. Consequently, selegiline may be advantageous in the long-term treatment of PD.