Normal motor function is dependent on the highly regulated synthesis and release of dopamine (DA) by neurons projecting from substantia nigra to corpus striatum. Cardinal symptoms of Parkinson's disease (PD) arise as a consequence of a deficiency in striatal DA due to the progressive degeneration of this neuronal system. Under such circumstances, the subunit composition and/or phosphorylation state of glutamatergic receptors of the N-methyl-D-aspartate (NMDA) subtype expressed on the dendritic spines of medium-sized striatal neurons changes in ways that compromise motor performance. Although levodopa acts, after conversion to DA, to reverse these changes by restoring striatal dopaminergic transmission, significant differences exist between the normally functioning DA system and the restoration of function provided by standard levodopa therapy. The nonphysiologic stimulation of DA receptors on striatal spiny neurons associated with current levodopa regimens now appears to contribute to the motor response complications that ultimately affect most parkinsonian patients. Current evidence suggests that alterations in signaling systems linking dopaminergic and glutamatergic receptors within these GABAergic efferent neurons induce NMDA receptor modification. Functionally, the resultant long-term change in glutamatergic synaptic efficacy leads to alterations in spiny neuron output, favoring the appearance of motor complications. Although dopaminomimetic replacement strategies that provide more continuous DA receptor stimulation should alleviate these disabling complications, more innovative approaches to the interdiction of pathologic changes in signal transduction components or glutamate receptor sensitivity could ultimately prove safer and more effective for the treatment of all stages of PD.