Levels of messenger RNA (mRNA) encoding glutamic acid decarboxylase (GAD) and preproenkephalin (PPE) were measured by Northern blot and in situ hybridization analyses in the striatum of the rat, after chronic injections of two neuroleptics, sulpiride and haloperidol. The Northern blot analysis showed that the chronic injection of sulpiride at high doses (80 mg/kg, twice a day, 14 days) increased striatal GAD and PPE mRNA levels by 120% and 78% respectively, when compared to vehicle-injected rats. Haloperidol injections at relatively low doses (1 mg/kg, once a day, 14 days) produced parallel increases in GAD (40%) and PPE (52%) mRNA levels. After in situ hybridization densitometric measurements were performed on autoradiograms from rats treated with sulpiride, haloperidol or vehicle. The distribution of GAD and PPE mRNA signals in control rats was homogeneous along the rostrocaudal extension of the striatum. A similar increase was found along this axis after sulpiride (20%) and haloperidol (30%) treatments. The cellular observation of hybridization signals showed that grain density for GAD mRNA was increased in a majority of striatal cells after both treatments. By contrast, the PPE mRNA hybridization signal only increased in a subpopulation of neurons. The effects of such treatments were also analysed by measuring GAD activity in the striatum and in its output structures, the globus pallidus and the substantia nigra. After the administration of sulpiride, GAD activity was not modified in the striatum but increased in the globus pallidus (by 17%). After haloperidol treatment, GAD activity was increased in the globus pallidus (20%) and the substantia nigra (17%). It is concluded that the interruption of dopaminergic transmission, more precisely the D2 receptor blockade, promotes in striatopallidal neurons an increase in GAD mRNA accompanied by an increase in GAD activity and PPE mRNA. A possible regulation of GAD mRNA and GAD activity in striatonigral neurons is also discussed.