The psychostimulant drug modafinil induces a reversal of motor deficits in MPTP treated primates and prevents MPTP toxicity to substantia nigra but its mechanism of action is not clear. In common marmosets acutely treated with MPTP in the presence or absence of modafinil, we have studied changes in GABA(A) receptor binding in the basal ganglia. MPTP treatment had no effect on [(3)H]-flunitrazepam (FNZ) binding density in the striatum or external globus pallidus (GPe) but increased [(3)H]-FNZ binding density in the internal globus pallidus (GPi). Administration of modafinil (10-100 mg/kg) with MPTP did not alter [(3)H]-FNZ binding density in the striatum or GPe. Low doses of modafinil (10 and 30 mg/kg) had no effect on the increased [(3)H]-FNZ binding density in the GPi but high dose modafinil (100 mg/kg) significantly decreased [(3)H]-FNZ binding density in GPi. These findings suggest that modafinil can selectively alter GABA binding density in the GPi either by preventing MPTP-induced toxicity or through an action on striatal output pathway related to its antiparkinsonian activity and its ability to inhibit MPTP toxicity. (C) 2003 Elsevier Ireland Ltd. All rights reserved.