The loss of dopaminergic neurons of the substantia nigra in Parkinson's disease and in animal models of Parkinson's disease is associated with an imbalance in the activity of the so-called ‘direct’ and ‘indirect’ pathways of information flow through the basal ganglia. The aim of the present study was to determine whether the imbalance is reflected in changes in the release of GABA, aspartate and glutamate in the pathways using dual probe microdialysis in freely moving rats. Control and 6-hydroxydopamine-(6-OHDA)-lesioned rats were implanted with microdialysis probes in the neostriatum and substantia nigra or globus pallidus and the release of amino acids was analysed in the dialysates. Basal levels of amino acids were largely unaltered by the 6-OHDA lesion; however, the levels of GABA in the globus pallidus dialysates were significantly elevated in the lesioned rats, indicating an imbalance in favour of the indirect pathway. Administration of kainic acid to the neostriatum enhanced the release of GABA locally and in the distal probes in the substantia nigra and globus pallidus. In 6-OHDA-lesioned rats, stimulated release of GABA in the substantia nigra was abolished, indicating a reduction in transmission along the direct pathway. Thus, consistent with the direct–indirect pathway model of the basal ganglia, the 6-OHDA lesion results in an elevation of the basal release of GABA in the striatopallidal (indirect) pathway and a reduction in the evoked release of GABA in the striatonigral (direct) pathway. These imbalances may underlie, at least in part, the motor abnormalities of Parkinson's disease and in animal models of Parkinson's disease.