Our previous studies demonstrated the involvement of quinone formation in dopaminergic neuron dysfunction in the L-DOPA-treated parkinsonian model and in methamphetamine (METH) neurotoxicity. We further reported that the cysteine-rich metal-binding metallothionein (MT) family of proteins protects dopaminergic neurons against dopamine (DA) quinone neurotoxicity by its quinone-quenching property. The aim of this study was to examine MT induction in astrocytes in response to excess DA and the potential neuroprotective effects of astrocyte-derived MTs against DA quinone toxicity. DA exposure significantly upregulated MT-1/-2 in cultured striatal astrocytes, but not in mesencephalic neurons. This DA-induced MT upregulation in astrocytes was blocked by treatment with a DA-transporter (DAT) inhibitor, but not by DA-receptor antagonists. Expression of nuclear factor erythroid 2-related factor (Nrf2) and its binding activity to antioxidant response element of MT-1 gene were significantly increased in the astrocytes after DA exposure. Nuclear translocation of Nrf2 was suppressed by the DAT inhibitor. Quinone formation and reduction of mesencephalic DA neurons after DA exposure were ameliorated by preincubation with conditioned media from DA-treated astrocytes. These protective effects were abrogated by MT-1/-2-specific antibody. Adding exogenous MT-1 to glial conditioned media also showed similar neuroprotective effects. Furthermore, MT-1/-2 expression was markedly elevated specifically in reactive astrocytes in the striatum of L-DOPA-treated hemi-parkinsonian mice or METH-injected mice. These results suggested that excess DA taken up by astrocytes via DAT upregulates MT-1/-2 expression specifically in astrocytes, and that MTs or related molecules secreted specifically by astrocytes protect dopaminergic neurons from damage through quinone quenching and/or scavenging of free radicals. © 2010 Wiley-Liss, Inc.