Expression of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) in the ventral mesencephalon has been assayed by mRNA in situ hybridization in adult rats with unilateral injections of 6-hydroxydopamine in the substantia nigra. On contralateral control sides, a specific hybridization signal was detected in the substantia nigra pars compacta (A9), ventral tegmental area (A10) and substantia nigra pars lateralis (A8). Cellular levels of BDNF mRNA were lower than those in BDNF expressing cortical and hippocampal neurons. The 6-hydroxydopamine injections completely abolished BDNF mRNA labeling in the pars compacta of the substantia nigra, whereas many labeled neurons remained in the ventral tegmental area and pars lateralis. The results strongly suggest that BDNF is expressed by nigral dopaminergic neurons.