The present study tested the hypothesis that normal concentrations of extracellular dopamine are preserved in the partially denervated striatum without active compensatory changes in dopamine uptake or release. One to four weeks after adult rats were unilaterally lesioned with 6-hydroxydopamine, fast-scan cyclic voltammetry at Nafion-coated, carbon-fiber microelectrodes was used to monitor extracellular dopamine levels in vivo, under urethane anesthesia. Simultaneous voltammetric recordings were collected in the lesioned and contralateral control striata. Extracellular dopamine was elicited by bilateral electrical stimulation of the medial forebrain bundle. A 20 Hz stimulation evoked similar concentrations of extracellular dopamine in both lesioned and control striata, although tissue dopamine was decreased 30-70% in lesioned striata, as determined subsequently by HPLC-EC. However, kinetic analysis of the voltammetric recordings revealed that the concentration of dopamine released per stimulus pulse and Vmax for dopamine uptake decreased in proportion to the magnitude of the lesion. These data support the hypothesis that normal extracellular dopamine levels can be generated in the partially lesioned striatum in the absence of active neuronal compensation. These results also suggest that passive mechanisms involved in the regulation of extracellular dopamine play an important role in maintaining function during the preclinical or presymptomatic phase of Parkinson's disease.