Ten healthy subjects and 16 patients with early Parkinson's disease (PD) were examined with single photon emission computed tomography (SPECT) and [123I]beta-CIT, a ligand for the dopamine (DA) transporter. Only drug-naive patients were examined since the expression of and binding to DA transporters may be influenced by dopaminergic medication. The main finding was a significant reduction in [123I]beta-CIT binding in the ipsi- and contralateral striatal regions, especially in the putamen, which showed a mean reduction of 65% of the control mean. Discriminant function analysis of the putaminal [123I]beta-CIT binding measures classified 100% of the cases in the correct group. Disease severity correlated negatively and highly significantly with the binding measures. Tremor ratings did not correlate with the SPECT measures, whereas rigidity, and to a lesser extent bradykinesia, did. Patients with unilateral PD showed a bilateral loss of striatal DA transporters. Our findings indicate that with [123I]beta-CIT SPECT it is possible to diagnose PD in subjects with very mild symptoms and signs. Moreover, finding a bilateral loss of striatal DA transporters in patients with unilateral PD also suggests that it may be possible to identify subjects in the preclinical phase of the disease.