The ability of grafted fetal ventral mesencephalic dopaminergic (DAergic) neuroblasts to reinnervate the unilaterally DA denervated rat striatum and improve motoric asymmetry has been well documented in several laboratories. The importance of host target specificity, and catecholamine (CA) neurotransmitter species, in the ability of grafts to ameliorate rotational responses to apomorphine and to affect electrophysiological characteristics of striatal neurons has not been systematically studied. We unilaterally lesioned Sprague-Dawley rats with 6-hydroxydopamine (6-OHDA) and verified the lesions using apomorphine (0.05 mg/kg, s.c.)-induced rotational behavior. Some of the animals subsequently received, intrastriatally, either DA neuroblasts from ventral mesencephalon that normally innervate the striatum, or from arcuate nucleus that do not. Additionally, two other groups were included that received either a CAergic graft from the noradrenergic nucleus locus coeruleus or a graft of cerebral cortex, which normally projects to the striatum but does not contain CAergic neurons. Only the fetal ventral mesencephalic grafts were able to reduce apomorphine- induced rotations and normalize striatal cell firing rates; striatal cell firing rates with ventral mesencephalic grafts were 1.43 Hz +/- 0.22, with arcuate nucleus grafts were 6.03 +/- 0.73, with locus coeruleus grafts were 4.71 +/- 0.74, and with cerebral cortex grafts were 4.36 +/- 0.45. Moreover, only the ventral mesencephalic grafts produced a dense tyrosine hydroxylase (TH)-immunoreactive nerve terminal network in the striatum; in contrast, the arcuate nucleus grafts did not reinnervate the striatum. In locus coeruleus grafted striata, few very long TH-positive axons were seen. We thus conclude that target specificity and neurotransmitter type are critically important in the ability of a graft to functionally reinnervate the 6- OHDA denervated striatum.