The effects of continuous and intermittent levodopa treatment on behavioral and biochemical indexes of basal ganglia function were compared in rats with unilateral 6-hydroxydopamine lesions of the nigrostriatal dopamine pathway. Animals treated for 30 days with intermittent levodopa exhibited behavioral sensitization manifested by an enhanced rotational response to apomorphine; the rotational response of rats treated with an equivalent dose of levodopa by continuous infusion did not differ from that of saline-treated controls. Dopamine receptor up-regulation in the denervated striatum relative to the intact striatum was statistically significant for D1 but not D2 receptors: This asymmetry in dopamine receptor levels was diminished following intermittent levodopa treatment. Glutamic acid decarboxylase activity, modestly elevated in all groups in the denervated striatum relative to the intact striatum, increased substantially over control values bilaterally as a result of intermittent, but not continuous, levodopa treatment. These findings suggest a relation between the schedule of chronic levodopa administration and the development of behavioral sensitization, possibly as a consequence of alterations in neuronal systems located downstream from striatal dopamine receptors. The behavioral sensitization induced by chronic, intermittent dopaminomimetic treatment may serve as a model for motor fluctuations in Parkinson's disease.