Neural transplantation in experimental Parkinsonism has so far focused on the ectopic placement of fetal ventral mesencephalic (VM) neurons into the dopamine-denervated caudate-putamen. VM grafts are effective in restoring dopamine neurotransmission in the grafted caudate-putamen and in partial amelioration of behavioral deficits. Recent pharmacological and physiological data have provided strong evidence that dopamine released from dendrites of the substantia nigra pars compacta (SNc) neurons within the pars reticulata (SNr) plays an important role in the regulation of the basal ganglia output pathways. Using a novel microtransplantation approach, multiple small cell suspension grafts (250 nl) derived from the VM of E14 rat embryos were implanted into the SNr of unilaterally 6-hydroxydopamine-lesioned rats. Behavioral changes in drug-induced rotation asymmetry were monitored for up to 14 weeks postgrafting, followed by a quantitative assessment and correlation of tyrosine hydroxylase (TH)-positive cell survival. The reduction in rotational asymmetry caused by the intranigral VM grafts was 64% for SKF 38393 (D1 agonist), 54% for apomorphine (mixed D1 and D2 agonist), and 67% for quinpirole (D2 agonist) when compared to a control spinal cord graft group. By contrast, amphetamine-induced rotation was completely unaffected. The correlation between number of TH-positive cells and behavioral compensation was highest for the D1 agonist (R = -0.729), though clear-cut also for the mixed D1/D2 agonist apomorphine (R = -0.664) and the D2 agonist quinpirole (R = -0.642). Favorable morphological features of the VM micrografts included extensive migration of the dopaminergic neurons into the host SNr and the formation of dense patches of dendrite-like TH-positive terminal networks within the SNr. The results demonstrate a novel pattern of behavioral recovery induced by intranigral VM transplants in the rat Parkinson model. This may have important implications for the understanding of how the nigrostriatal dopamine system influences motor control in the basal ganglia as well as for the development of optimal transplantation strategies in Parkinson's disease.