After treatment with the neurotoxin, 1-methyl-4-phenyl-1,2,3,6-tetrahydropyridine (MPTP), there was a severe loss of dopamine (DA) at all examined sites in the striatum, both in those monkeys which remained asymptomatic (77-99%) and in one monkey which developed severe parkinsonian disability (94-99%). However, the asymptomatic animals had normal DA concentration in the substantia nigra (SN); yet in the symptomatic animal DA was largely depleted in the central (86%) and medial (94%), but not lateral (8%) regions of the SN. The HVA/DA ratio was raised in the striatum of all MPTP-treated animals. In the SN though, this ratio was elevated only in the symptomatic animal, in the central and medial, but not lateral regions. The contralateral half of these brains were examined for DA histofluorescence. The SN of asymptomatic animals had a slight increase in lipofuscin fluorescence within dopaminergic neurons and a small reduction in the number of dopaminergic cells, while fluorescent intensity of individual neurons was unchanged. The SN of the symptomatic animal displayed a sharp decline in the number of DA neurons along with an increase in autofluorescent pigment granules; these changes were most pronounced in the central and medial regions of the SN. These data suggest that after MPTP the terminals of the nigrostriatal pathway are affected before the cell bodies. In the one symptomatic animal emergence of parkinsonian disability corresponded with a marked loss of DA neurons and DA concentration in the central and medial regions of the SN. In the control monkeys a gradient in the concentration of amines and metabolites was observed within the SN; the lateral region contained the highest and the medial region the lowest concentration.