Sustained neurotrophic factor treatment in neurodegenerative disorders such as Parkinson's disease is likely to affect both degenerating and intact neurons. To investigate the effect of long-term glial cell line-derived neurotrophic factor (GDNF) overexpression on intact nigrostriatal dopamine neurons, we injected a recombinant lentiviral vector encoding GDNF, or green fluorescent protein, in the right striatum of young adult rats. Thirteen months after viral injection GDNF levels were 4.5 ng/mg tissue in the striatum and 0.9 ng/mg in the substantia nigra as measured by ELISA, representing a 25–100-fold increase above control vector- or nontransduced tissue. GDNF overexpression significantly reduced tyrosine hydroxylase mRNA levels (by 39–72%) in the substantia nigra and ventral tegmental area neurons, and the optical density of tyrosine hydroxylase-immunoreactive innervation in the striatum was reduced by 25–52% with the most prominent reductions appearing caudally. No significant reduction was seen in striatal vesicular monoamine transporter 2-immunoreactivity or [3H]mazindole binding autoradiography to dopamine uptake sites, two other presynaptic markers in dopamine axon terminals. The striatal D1 and D2 receptor binding as determined by [3H]SCH23390 and [3H]spiperone binding, respectively, was unaltered relative to the intact side in both treatment groups. Preproenkephalin mRNA levels in postsynaptic striatal neurons, which increase upon removal of striatal dopamine, were also unaffected by the GDNF treatment. Taken together our findings indicate that sustained GDNF administration to intact nigrostriatal dopamine neurons selectively reduces tyrosine hydroxylase expression, without altering striatal dopamine transmission to the extent that compensatory changes in several other components related to dopamine storage and signalling occur.