Destruction of the substantia nigra produces striatal D1 dopamine receptor supersensitivity without increasing receptor number or affinity, thus implicating postreceptor mechanisms. The nature of these mechanisms is unknown. Increased striatal c-fos expression ipsilateral to a unilateral lesion of the substantia nigra in rats treated with appropriate dopamine agonists provides a cellular marker of D1 receptor supersensitivity. D1 receptors are positively linked to adenylate cyclase and therefore to cAMP-dependent protein kinase. Because expression of the c-fos gene in response to cAMP- and Ca2+/calmodulin-regulated protein kinases depends on phosphorylation of cAMP-response element-binding protein (CREB) at Ser-133, we examined CREB phosphorylation after dopaminergic stimulation in cultured striatal neurons and in the striatum of rats after unilateral 6-hydroxydopamine ablation of the substantia nigra. Using an antiserum specific for CREB phosphorylated at Ser-133, we found that dopamine increases CREB phosphorylation in cultured striatal neurons. This effect was blocked by a D1 antagonist. L-Dopa produced marked CREB phosphorylation in striatal neurons in rats ipsilateral, but not contralateral, to a 6-hydroxydopamine lesion. This response was blocked by a D1 antagonist, but not a D2 antagonist, and was reproduced by a D1 agonist, but not a D2 agonist. These findings are consistent with the hypothesis that D1 receptor supersensitivity is associated with upregulated activity of cAMP-dependent or Ca2+/calmodulin-dependent protein kinases, or both, following dopamine denervation of striatal neurons.