Repeated systemic administration of the mitochondrial complex I inhibitor rotenone produces a rodent model of Parkinson's disease (PD). Mechanisms of relatively selective rotenone-induced damage to nigrostriatal dopaminergic neurons remain incompletely understood. According to the ‘catecholaldehyde hypothesis,’ buildup of the autotoxic dopamine metabolite 3,4-dihydroxyphenylacetaldehyde (DOPAL) contributes to PD pathogenesis. Vesicular uptake blockade increases DOPAL levels, and DOPAL is detoxified mainly by aldehyde dehydrogenase (ALDH). We tested whether rotenone interferes with vesicular uptake and intracellular ALDH activity. Endogenous and F-labeled catechols were measured in PC12 cells incubated with rotenone (0–1000 nM, 180 min), without or with F-dopamine (2 μM) to track vesicular uptake and catecholamine metabolism. Rotenone dose dependently increased DOPAL, F-DOPAL, and 3,4-dihydroxyphenylethanol (DOPET) levels while decreasing dopamine and 3,4-dihydroxyphenylacetic acid (DOPAC) levels and the ratio of dopamine to the sum of its deaminated metabolites. In test tubes, rotenone did not affect conversion of DOPAL to DOPAC by ALDH when NAD+ was supplied, whereas the direct-acting ALDH inhibitor benomyl markedly increased DOPAL and decreased DOPAC concentrations in the reaction mixtures. We propose that rotenone builds up intracellular DOPAL by decreasing ALDH activity and attenuating vesicular sequestration of cytoplasmic catecholamines. The results provide a novel mechanism for selective rotenone-induced toxicity in dopaminergic neurons.