Neurotoxic doses of methamphetamine (METH) can cause hyperthermia in experimental animals. Damage sustained to dopaminergic nerve terminals by this stimulant can be reduced by environmental cooling or by pharmacological manipulation which attenuates the hyperthermia. Many pharmacological agents with very diverse actions protect against METH-induced neuropathology. Several of these compounds, as well as drugs which do not protect, were investigated to determine if there was a relationship between protection and METH-induced hyperthermia. Mice received METH with or without concurrent administration of other drugs and core (i.e., colonic) temperature was monitored during treatment. The animals were sacrificed > or = 5 days later and neostriatal tyrosine hydroxylase activity and dopamine were measured. Core temperature was significantly elevated (> or = 2 degrees C) in mice treated with doses of METH which produced > or = 90% losses in striatal dopamine but not in mice less severally affected (only 50% loss of dopamine). Concurrent treatment of mice with METH and pharmacological agents which protected partially or completely from METH-induced toxicity also prevented the hyperthermic response (i.e., dopamine receptor antagonists, fenfluramine, dizocilpine, alpha-methyl-p-tyrosine, phenytoin, aminooxyacetic acid and propranol). These findings are consistent with the hypothesis that the hyperthermia produced by METH contributes to its neuropathology. However, studies with reserpine, a compound which dramatically lowers core temperature, demonstrated that hyperthermia per se is not a requirement for METH-induced neurotoxicity. Although core temperature was elevated in reserpinized mice treated with METH as compared with reserpinized control mice, their temperatures remained significantly lower than in nonreserpinized control mice. However, the hypothermic state produced in the reserpinized mice did not provide protection from METH-induced toxicity. These data demonstrate that hyperthermia per se contributes to but is not solely responsible for the METH-induced neuropathology.