Alterations in the levels of neurotransmitter biosynthetic enzymes are a concomitant of many neurodegenerative disorders. In order to elucidate potential mechanisms for longterm alterations in biosynthetic enzyme gene products in response to neuronal injury, an acute axotomy/deafferentation model was employed. A unilateral microknife transection of the medial forebrain bundle (MFB) axotomizes and/or deafferents phenotypically identified neuronal populations important in the function of the basal ganglia. Semi-quantitative in situ hybridization and immunohistochemical analysis demonstrated that the products of the immediate-early gene c-fos were induced postaxotomy in the noradrenergic neurons of the locus ceruleus (LC), but not in the dopaminergic neurons of the substantia nigra pars compacta (SNc). Analysis of the levels of mRNA, protein, and activity for tyrosine hydroxylase demonstrated that the LC neurons survive the injury while the SNc neurons degenerate. After MFB transection, Fos protein also was induced in the corpus striatum within 1 hr, first in large, putatively cholinergic neuronal populations followed at 3 hr by the small, putatively GABAergic neurons. The substantia nigra pars reticulata and the subthalamic nucleus neuronal populations, deafferented by the MFB transection, also exhibited Fos induction beginning at 3 hr. The data suggest that expression of Fos in a neuronal population is correlative with respect to cell survival following either axotomy or deafferentation. Whether Fos induction following injury is either a necessary mechanism of cell survival or merely a marker of increased neuronal activity requires further investigation.