Studies showed that the dopamine (DA) transporter (DAT) modulates changes in levodopa-derived synaptic dopamine levels (Δ(DA)) in Parkinson’s disease (PD). Here we evaluate the relationship between DAT and Δ(DA) in the 6-hydroxydopamine model of Parkinson’s disease to investigate these mechanisms as a function of dopaminergic denervation and in relation to other denervation-induced regulatory changes. 27 rats with a unilateral 6-hydroxydopamine lesion (denervation ∼20–97%) were imaged with 11C-dihydrotetrabenazine (VMAT2 marker), 11C-methylphenidate (DAT marker) and 11C-raclopride (D2-type receptor marker). For denervation <75%Δ(DA) was significantly correlated with a combination of relatively preserved terminal density and lower DAT. For denervation <90%, Δ(DA) was significantly negatively correlated with DAT with a weaker dependence on VMAT2. For the entire data set, no dependence on pre-synaptic markers was observed; Δ(DA) was significantly positively correlated with 11C-raclopride binding-derived estimates of DA loss. These findings parallel observations in humans, and show that (i) regulatory changes attempt to normalize synaptic DA levels (ii) a lesion-induced functional dependence of Δ(DA) on DAT occurs up to ∼ 90% denervation (iii) for denervation < 75% relative lower DAT levels may relate to effective compensation; for higher denervation, lower DAT levels likely contribute to oscillations in synaptic DA associated with dyskinesias.