Computer visualization techniques were used to map the distribution of dopaminergic neurons within midbrain tissue sections from 5 parkinsonian patients and 3 age-matched control subjects. The Parkinsonian brains had over 50% fewer dopaminergic neurons within the midbrain than age-matched normal brains. The cell loss occurred within the combined substantia nigra (dopaminergic nucleus A9) and retrorubral (dopaminergic nucleus A8) areas (> 61%) and the ventral tegmental area (dopaminergic nucleus A10) (> 42%). The cell loss was greatest within the ventral portion of the substantia nigra zona compacta. The specific pattern of cell loss is very similar to the pattern of cells that project to the striatum (as opposed to cortical and limbic sites) in animal neuroanatomical tracing experiments. These data suggest that Parkinson's disease preferentially destroys midbrain dopaminergic neurons in nuclei A8, A9, and A10, which project to the striatum.