In situ hybridization histochemistry and RNA blots were used to study the expression of glutamic acid decarboxylase (GAD) mRNA in rats with or without a unilateral lesion of midbrain dopamine neurons. Two populations of GAD mRNA positive neurons were found in the intact caudate-putamen, substantia nigra and fronto-parietal cortex. In caudate-putamen, only one out of ten of the GAD mRNA positive neurons expressed high levels, while in substantia nigra every second of the positive neurons expressed high levels of GAD mRNA. Relatively few, but intensively labelled neurons were found in the intact fronto-parietal cerebral cortex. In addition, one out of six of the GAD mRNA positive neurons in the fronto-parietal cortex showed a low labeling. On the ipsilateral side, the forebrain dopamine deafferentation induced an increase in the number of neurons expressing high levels of GAD mRNA in caudate-putamen, and a decrease in fronto-parietal cortex. A smaller decrease was also seen in substantia nigra. However, the total number of GAD mRNA positive neurons were not significantly changed in any of these brain regions. The changes in the levels of GAD mRNA after the dopamine lesion were confirmed by RNA blot analysis. Hence, midbrain dopamine neurons appear to control neuronal expression of GAD mRNA by a tonic down-regulation in a fraction of GAD mRNA positive neurons in caudate-putamen, and a tonic up-regulation in a fraction of GAD mRNA positive neurons in fronto-parietal cortex and substantia nigra.