Overexpression or mutation of α-synuclein (α-Syn), a protein associated with presynaptic vesicles, causes familial forms of Parkinson's disease in humans and is also associated with sporadic forms of the disease. We used in vivo microdialysis, tissue content analysis, behavioral assessment, and whole-cell patch clamp recordings from striatal medium-sized spiny neurons (MSSNs) in slices to examine dopamine transmission and dopaminergic modulation of corticostriatal synaptic function in mice overexpressing human wild-type α-Syn under the Thy1 promoter (α-Syn mice). Tonic striatal extracellular dopamine and 3-methoxytyramine levels were elevated in α-Syn mice at 6 months of age, prior to any reduction in total striatal tissue content, and were accompanied by an increase in open-field activity. Dopamine clearance and amphetamine-induced dopamine efflux were unchanged. The frequency of MSSN spontaneous excitatory postsynaptic currents (sEPSCs) was lower in α-Syn mice. Amphetamine reduced sEPSC frequency in wild types (WTs) but produced no effect in α-Syn mice. Furthermore, whereas quinpirole reduced and sulpiride increased sEPSC frequency in WT mice, they produced the opposite effects in α-Syn mice. These observations indicate that overexpression of α-Syn alters dopamine efflux and D2 receptor modulation of corticostriatal glutamate release at a young age. At 14 months of age, the α-Syn mice presented with significantly lower striatal tissue dopamine and tyrosine hydroxylase content relative to WT littermates, accompanied by an L-DOPA-reversible sensory motor deficit. Together, these data further validate this transgenic mouse line as a slowly progressing model of Parkinson's disease and provide evidence for early dopamine synaptic dysfunction prior to loss of striatal dopamine. © 2011 Wiley-Liss, Inc.