6-Hydroxydopamine is a neurotoxin that produces degeneration of the nigrostriatal dopaminergic pathway in rodents. Its toxicity is thought to involve the generation of superoxide anion secondary to its autoxidation. To examine the effects of the overexpression of Cu,Zn-superoxide dismutase activity on 6-hydroxydopamine-induced dopaminergic neuronal damage, we have measured the effects of 6-hydroxydopamine on striatal and nigral dopamine transporters and nigral tyrosine hydroxylase-immunoreactive neurons in Cu,Zn-superoxide dismutase transgenic mice. Intracerebroventricular injection of 6-hydroxydopamine (50 microg) in non-transgenic mice produced reductions in the size of striatal area and an enlargement of the cerebral ventricle on both sides of the brains of mice killed two weeks after the injection. In addition, 6-hydroxydopamine caused marked decreases in striatal and nigral [125I]RTI-121-labelled dopamine transporters not only on the injected side but also on the non-injected side of non-transgenic mice; this was associated with decreased cell number and size of tyrosine hydroxylase-immunoreactive dopamine neurons in the substantia nigra pars compacta on both sides in these mice. In contrast, superoxide dismutase transgenic mice were protected against these neurotoxic effects of 6-hydroxydopamine, with the homozygous transgenic mice showing almost complete protection. These results provide further support for a role of superoxide anion in the toxic effects of 6-hydroxydopamine. They also provide further evidence that reactive oxygen species may be the main determining factors in the neurodegenerative effects of catecholamines.