1-Methyl-4-phenylpyridinium ion (MPP+), an oxidative metabolite of 1-methyl-4-phenyl-1,2,3,6-tetrahydropyridine (MPTP), is considered to be directly responsible for MPTP-induced Parkinson's disease-like symptoms by inhibiting NADH-ubiquinone oxidoreductase (complex I) in the mitochondrial respiratory chain. Here we demonstrate that 25 microM MPP+ decreases the content of mitochondrial DNA to about one-third in HeLa S3 cells. On the contrary, 0.1 microM rotenone, which inhibits complex I to the same extent as 25 microM MPP+ in the cells, increases the content of mitochondrial DNA about 2-fold. Hence, the effect of MPP+ on mitochondrial DNA is not mediated by the inhibition of complex I. To examine the replication state of mitochondrial DNA, we measured the amount of nascent strands of mitochondrial DNA. The amount is decreased by MPP+ but increased by rotenone, suggesting that the replication of mitochondrial DNA is inhibited by MPP+. Because the proper amount of mitochondrial DNA is essential to maintain components of the respiratory chain, the decrease of mitochondrial DNA may play a role in the progression of MPTP-induced Parkinson's disease-like symptoms caused by the mitochondrial respiratory failure.