It has been suggested that idiopathic parkinsonism, characterized by a loss of dopaminergic neurons of the nigrostriatal pathway, is due to the intracellular generation of reactive oxygen species, generated by a nonenzymatic or enzymatic partial reduction of dioxygen. Based on in vitro studies of the iron-containing monooxygenase tyrosine hydroxylase (TH), evidence is presented that this enzyme system may also contribute to such an oxidative stress. Thus, the purified and Fe(2+)-reconstituted recombinant human enzyme shows a time- and temperature-dependent partial uncoupling of the hydroxylation of L-tyrosine with the natural cofactor (6R)-tetrahydrobiopterin, resulting in the formation of H2O2. The degree of uncoupling of the hydroxylation reaction is significantly higher when certain substrate analogues, notably the 7-substituted isomer (7-tetrahydrobiopterin) of the natural cofactor, is used. In the presence of H2O2 and Fe2+, the addition of TH increases the production of the highly reactive.OH radical, probably via a Fenton type of reaction. It is not clear whether this in vitro reaction can mediate cellular injury in vivo. However, it is known that the distribution of TH in the central and peripheral nervous system often corresponds to that of the neuronal degeneration in idiopathic parkinsonism, a finding that is compatible with a pathogenetic effect of TH.