Glial cell line-derived neurotrophic factor (GDNF) was identified on the basis of its ability to enhance the development of embryonic mesencephalic dopamine neurons. It remains unknown whether GDNF is a physiologically relevant trophic factor for these neurons. We have shown that natural cell death among dopamine neurons of the substantia nigra occurs largely postnatally. To investigate whether GDNF may have the ability to support these neurons during their period of natural cell death, we have used a postnatal primary culture model. We find that GDNF is able to support the viability of postnatal nigral dopamine neurons by inhibiting apoptotic death. This ability of GDNF shows both regional specificity for the nigra and cellular specificity for the dopamine phenotype. Among eight other neurotrophic factors previously reported to support embryonic dopamine neurons, GDNF was unique in this ability. Thus, GDNF meets this criterion for a physiologically relevant trophic factor for dopamine neurons of the substantia nigra.