3,4-Dihydroxyphenylacetaldehyde (DOPAL) is a toxic metabolite formed by the oxidative deamination of dopamine. This aldehyde is mainly oxidized to 3,4-dihydroxyphenylacetic acid (DOPAC) by aldehyde dehydrogenase (ALDH), but is also partly reduced to 3, 4-dihydroxyphenylethanol (DOPET) by aldehyde or aldose reductase (ARs). In a previous study, we found that rotenone, a complex I inhibitor, induced a rapid accumulation of DOPAL and DOPET in the medium of cultured PC12 cells. Here, we examined the potential role of DOPAL in the toxicity induced by complex I inhibition in PC12 cells and compared the effects of rotenone on concentrations of DOPAL and DOPET to those of MPP(+). DOPAL and DOPET levels were increased by rotenone but decreased by MPP(+). Inhibition of ALDH by daidzein reduced the formation of DOPAC and increased the accumulation of DOPAL. Inhibition of ARs (with AL1576) diminished DOPET formation and elevated DOPAL concentrations. Combined inhibition of ALDH and ARs markedly elevated DOPAL concentrations while diminishing DOPET and DOPAC levels. The elevation of DOPAL levels induced by combined inhibition of ALDH and ARs had no effect on cell viability. However, combined inhibition of ALDH and ARs potentiated rotenone-induced toxicity. Both the potentiation of toxicity and the increase in DOPAL levels were blocked by inhibition of monoamine oxidase with clorgyline indicating that accumulation of DOPAL was responsible for the potentiated rotenone-induced toxicity following combined inhibition of ALDH and ARs. Since complex I dysfunction is reported to be involved in the pathogenesis of Parkinson's disease, DOPAL potentiation of the deleterious effects of complex I inhibition may contribute to the specific vulnerability of dopaminergic neurons to injury.