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Parkinson's disease is a neurodegenerative disorder which is in most cases of unknown etiology. Mutations of the Park-2 gene are the most frequent cause of familial parkinsonism and parkin knockout (PK-KO) mice have abnormalities that resemble the clinical syndrome. We investigated the interaction of genetic and environmental factors, treating midbrain neuronal cultures from PK-KO and wild-type (WT) mice with rotenone (ROT). ROT (0.025–0.1 μM) produced a dose-dependent selective reduction of tyrosine hydroxylase-immunoreactive cells and of other neurons, as shown by the immunoreactivity to microtubule-associated protein 2 in PK-KO cultures, suggesting that the toxic effect of ROT involved dopamine and other types of neurons. Neuronal death was mainly apoptotic and suppressible by the caspase inhibitor t-butoxycarbonyl-Asp(OMe)-fluoromethyl ketone (Boc-D-FMK). PK-KO cultures were more susceptible to apoptosis induced by low doses of ROT than those from WT. ROT increased the proportion of astroglia and microglia more in PK-KO than in WT cultures. Indomethacin, a cyclo-oxygenase inhibitor, worsened the effects of ROT on tyrosine hydroxylase cells, apoptosis and astroglial (glial fibrillary acidic protein) cells. N-nitro-L-arginine methyl ester, an inhibitor of nitric oxide synthase, increased ROT-induced apoptosis but did not change tyrosine hydroxylase-immunoreactive or glial fibrillary acidic protein area. Neither indomethacin nor N-nitro-L-arginine methyl ester had any effect on the reduction by ROT of the mitochondrial potential as measured by 3-(4,5-dimethylthiazol-2-yl)-2,5-diphenyltetrazolium bromide. Microglial NADPH oxidase inhibition, however, protected against ROT. The roles of p38 MAPK and extracellular signal-regulated kinase signaling pathways were tested by treatment with SB20358 and PD98059, respectively. These compounds were inactive in ROT-naive cultures but PD98059 slightly increased cellular necrosis, as measured by lactate dehydrogenase levels, caused by ROT, without changing mitochondrial activity. SB20358 increased the mitochondrial failure and lactate dehydrogenase elevation induced by ROT. Minocycline, an inhibitor of microglia, prevented the dropout of tyrosine hydroxylase and apoptosis by ROT; the addition of microglia from PK-KO to WT neuronal cultures increased the sensitivity of dopaminergic neurons to ROT. PK-KO mice were more susceptible than WT to ROT and the combined effects of Park-2 suppression and ROT reproduced the cellular events observed in Parkinson's disease. These events were prevented by minocycline.