Changes in striatal dopamine D2 receptor mRNA levels provoked by unilateral 6-hydroxydopamine-induced lesion of the nigrostriatal dopamine pathway were studied by in situ hybridization. The influence of embryonic dopaminergic neurons implanted into the dopamine-depleted striatum on the lesion-induced changes was also examined. Changes in D2 mRNA levels were compared with changes in D2 receptor densities measured in the same animals by receptor autoradiography using [3H]spiperone or [3H]SDZ 205–501 as ligands. The distribution of D2 mRNA in the striatum of control animals closely paralleled that of the D2 receptor itself, as assessed by autoradiography, and the highest density of D2 mRNA occurred in the lateral part of the striatum. One month after lesion, levels of D2 mRNA were 34% higher in the dorsolateral part of the dopamine-depleted striatum than in the corresponding region of the contralateral control striatum. D2 receptor density in this region was increased by 40% relative to the control level. No significant increases could be measured in the medial part of the striatum. The increases in the lateral part were similar at 7 months post-lesion; however, at this time the increase in both D2 mRNA and receptor levels had spread to the medial part of the striatum as well. In the graft-bearing striatum levels of both D2 mRNA and D2 receptors reverted to control levels. This study shows that the post-lesion increase in striatal dopamine receptor and mRNA level is a biphasic phenomenon with a late-occurring component in the medial striatum. It also shows that once the increase in striatal D2 receptor gene expression is accomplished, it is maintained unchanged for long periods, similar to that of D2 receptor levels themselves. Moreover, grafts of embryonic dopaminergic neurons are able to modulate the expression of the dopamine D2 receptor gene.