Parkinson's disease is characterized by the progressive degeneration of midbrain dopaminergic neurons. Several studies have examined the effects of the dopaminergic neurotrophins growth/differentiation factor 5 (GDF5) and glial cell line-derived neurotrophic factor (GDNF) on these neurons in vitro. However, there is little information regarding their effects on astroglial cells. Here, the effects of GDF5 and GDNF on dopaminergic neuronal and astroglial survival and differentiation in embryonic rat midbrain cultures were examined. Both GDF5 and GDNF enhanced the survival and differentiation of dopaminergic neurons. GDF5 significantly increased the survival of astroglial cells, whereas GDNF had no significant effect on these cells. The possible involvement of astroglia in the dopaminergic neurotrophic effect induced by GDF5 was investigated by examining the effect of GDF5 on the survival of dopaminergic neurons in glia-depleted midbrain cultures. There was no significant difference between the survival of dopaminergic neurons in glia-depleted cultures treated with GDF5 and that in mixed cell cultures treated with GDF5, suggesting that GDF5 acts directly on dopaminergic neurons in exerting its neurotrophic effect. GDF5 and GDNF have been established as potent neurotrophic factors for dopaminergic neurons. However, the effects of adding a combination of these neurotrophins to midbrain cultures have not been previously examined. The present study found that combined treatment with GDF5 and GDNF significantly increased the survival of dopaminergic neurons in cultures compared with that in cultures treated with either neurotrophin alone. This was an additive effect, indicating that these neurotrophins act on separate subpopulations of dopaminergic neurons.