Glial cell-line-derived neurotrophic factor (GDNF) has been shown to enhance the survival of dopaminergic neurones both in vitro and in vivo, and to protect the rodent dopaminergic system from neurotoxic damage. However, most previous studies have only examined the short-term protective effects of GDNF. We have investigated the long-term effects of GDNF on a 6-hydroxydopamine (6-OHDA)-induced lesion of the rat medial forebrain bundle (MFB), which results in complete and irreversible destruction of the nigrostriatal pathway, and is a robust model of Parkinson's disease. GDNF was administered ipsilaterally above the substantia nigra and into the lateral ventricle immediately before a unilateral 6-OHDA injection into the MFB. The effects of GDNF were examined in vivo by behavioural testing and positron emission tomography (PET) at weekly intervals, for 12 weeks. GDNF prevented the development of amphetamine-induced rotations at all time-points. PET studies, using [11C]-RTI-121 as a tracer for the dopamine transporter, indicated that GDNF prevented 6-OHDA-induced reduction of dopamine reuptake sites in the ipsilateral striatum. Post-mortem neurochemical analysis at 13 weeks after surgery found that GDNF significantly inhibited 6-OHDA-induced loss of dopamine, 3,4-dihydroxyphenylacetic acid and homovanillic acid in the ipsilateral striatum. Immunocytochemistry showed that GDNF reduced 6-OHDA-induced loss of tyrosine hydroxylase-positive neurones in both the substantia nigra pars compacta and ventral tegmental area. We have shown that a single treatment with GDNF can confer long-term protective effects against a 6-OHDA lesion, which suggests that this factor may be useful for the treatment of Parkinson's disease.