Although the cause of Parkinson's disease (PD) is unknown, data suggest roles for environmental factors that may sensitize dopaminergic neurons to age-related dysfunction and death. Based upon epidemiological data suggesting roles for dietary factors in PD and other age-related neurodegenerative disorders, we tested the hypothesis that dietary folate can modify vulnerability of dopaminergic neurons to dysfunction and death in a mouse model of PD. We report that dietary folate deficiency sensitizes mice to MPTP-induced PD-like pathology and motor dysfunction. Mice on a folate-deficient diet exhibit elevated levels of plasma homocysteine. When infused directly into either the substantia nigra or striatum, homocysteine exacerbates MPTP-induced dopamine depletion, neuronal degeneration and motor dysfunction. Homocysteine exacerbates oxidative stress, mitochondrial dysfunction and apoptosis in human dopaminergic cells exposed to the pesticide rotenone or the pro-oxidant Fe2+. The adverse effects of homocysteine on dopaminergic cells is ameliorated by administration of the antioxidant uric acid and by an inhibitor of poly (ADP-ribose) polymerase. The ability of folate deficiency and elevated homocysteine levels to sensitize dopaminergic neurons to environmental toxins suggests a mechanism whereby dietary folate may influence risk for PD.