L-3,4-dihydroxyphenylalanine (L-DOPA) reduces symptoms of Parkinson's disease (PD), but suffers from serious side effects on long-term use. Melatonin (10-30 mg/kg, 6 doses at 10 hr intervals) was investigated to potentiate L-DOPA therapeutic effects in 1-methyl-4-phenyl-1,2,3,6-tetrahydropyridine (MPTP)-induced parkinsonism in mice. Striatal tyrosine hydroxylase (TH) immunoreactivity, TH, and phosphorylated ser 40 TH (p-TH) protein levels were assayed on 7th day. Nigral TH-positive neurons stereology was conducted on serial sections 2.8 mm from bregma rostrally to 3.74 mm caudally. MPTP caused 39% and 58% decrease, respectively, in striatal fibers and TH protein levels, but 2.5-fold increase in p-TH levels. About 35% TH neurons were lost between 360 and 600 μm from 940 μm of the entire nigra analyzed, but no neurons were lost between 250 μm rostrally and 220 μm caudally. When L-DOPA in small doses (5-8 mg/kg) failed to affect MPTP-induced akinesia or catalepsy, co-administration of melatonin with L-DOPA attenuated these behaviors. Melatonin administration significantly attenuated MPTP-induced loss in striatal TH fibers (82%), TH (62%) and p-TH protein (100%) levels, and nigral neurons (87-100%). Melatonin failed to attenuate MPTP-induced striatal dopamine depletion. L-DOPA administration (5 mg/kg, once 40 min prior to sacrifice, p.o.) in MPTP- and melatonin-treated mice caused significant increase in striatal dopamine (31%), as compared to L-DOPA and MPTP-treated mice. This was equivalent to 8 mg/kg L-DOPA administration in parkinsonian mouse. Therefore, prolonged, effective use of L-DOPA in PD with lesser side effects could be achieved by treating with 60% lower doses of L-DOPA along with melatonin.