The role of the pedunculopontine nucleus (PPN) in the pathophysiology of Parkinson's disease is still unclear. Using microrecordings, we investigated the changes occurring in PPN neurons after lesions of the substantia nigra compacta (SNc) and the role of the subthalamic nucleus (STN) in these changes. In normal rats the firing rate of PPN neurons was 10.6 ± 1.4 spikes/s, the majority of neurons (91%) having a regular firing pattern, 6% irregular and 3% in bursts. In rats with 6-hydroxydopamine lesions of the SNc, the firing rate increased significantly to 18.3 ± 3.0 spikes/s compared with normal rats. In addition, the firing pattern changed significantly: 70% of the neurons discharged regularly, 27% irregularly and 3% in bursts. In rats with ibotenic acid lesions of the STN, the firing rate decreased significantly to 7.2 ± 0.9 spikes/s and the firing pattern changed significantly: 50% of the neurons discharged regularly, 43% irregularly and 7% in bursts. The rats with combined SNc and STN lesions showed no change in the firing rate (8.5 ± 1.0 spikes/s) compared to normal rats. The firing pattern changed significantly: 69% of the cells discharged regularly, 26% irregularly and 5% in bursts. These findings demonstrate that PPN neurons are overactive and more irregular in the 6-hydroxydopamine-lesioned rats, suggesting the implication of this nucleus in the pathophysiology of parkinsonism. Moreover, the fact that STN lesions induced a reduction in the firing rate of the PPN in normal rats and a normalization of the firing rate in rats with 6-hydroxydopamine lesions suggests that this nucleus is under major control of the STN.