Positron emission tomography following intravenous administration of 6-[18F]-L-fluorodopa was used to investigate the usefulness of PET for the assessment of normal and abnormal dopaminergic function. For this purpose, the incracerebral distribution of 6-[18F]-L-fluorodopa and its metabolites was evaluated in normal control and asymptomatic MPTP-treated rhesus monkeys. MPTP is a neurotoxic compound which destroys selectively the dapaminergic neurons of the nigrostriatal pathways in primates. The 18F accumulation was found to be significantly reduced in the striatum, putamen more than caudate, of the MPTP-treated animals compared to the normal controls. The 18F accumulation in dopamine-poor areas did not differ between the two groups. The ratios of striatum to dopamine-poor brain area were highly correlated to the concentrations of the dopamine metabolite, homovanillic acid, in the cerebrospinal fluid of the same animals. The findings are consistent with the hypothesis that "silent damage" to the dopaminergic nigral neurons may precede the onset of parkinsonism by many years and that PET scanner examination using 6-[18F]-L-fluorodopa may be useful in the detection of subtle dopaminergic dysfunctions as may exist in DA-related motor syndromes and neuropsychiatric disorders.