The aim of the present study was to examine the influence of the long-term paraquat administration on the dopaminergic nigrostriatal system in rats. Paraquat was injected at a dose of 10 mg/kg i.p. for 4–24 weeks. We found that this pesticide reduced the number of tyrosine hydroxylase-immunoreactive neurons of the substantia nigra; after the 4-week treatment the reduction (17%, nonsignificant) was confined to the rostrocentral region of this structure but, after 24 weeks, had spread along its whole length and was ≈ 37%. Moreover, it induced a biphasic effect on dopaminergic transmission. First, levels of dopamine, its metabolites and turnover were elevated (4–8 weeks) in the caudate–putamen, then all these parameters returned to control values (12 weeks) and dropped by 25–30% after 24 weeks. The binding of [3H]GBR 12,935 to dopamine transporter in the caudate–putamen was decreased after 4–8 weeks, then returned to control values after 12 weeks but was again decreased after 24 weeks. Twenty-four-week paraquat administration also decreased the level of tyrosine hydroxylase (Western blot) in the caudate–putamen. In addition, paraquat activated serotonin and noradrenaline transmission during the first 12 weeks of treatment but no decreases in levels of these neurotransmitters were observed after 24 weeks. The above results seem to suggest that long-term paraquat administration produces a slowly progressing degeneration of nigrostriatal neurons, leading to delayed deficits in dopaminergic transmission, which may resemble early, presymptomatic, stages of Parkinson's disease.