Parkinson's disease is characterized by dopaminergic neurodegeneration and is associated with mitochondrial dysfunction. The bioenergetic susceptibility of dopaminergic neurons to toxins which induce Parkinson's like syndromes in animal models is then of particular interest. For example, rotenone, 1-methyl-4-phenyl-1,2,3,6-tetrahydropyridine (MPTP) and its active metabolite 1-methyl-4-phenylpyridinium (MPP+), and 6-hydroxydopamine (6-OHDA), have been shown to induce dopaminergic cell death in vivo and in vitro. Exposure of animals to these compounds induce a range of responses characteristics of Parkinson's disease, including dopaminergic cell death, and Reactive Oxygen Species (ROS) production. Here we test the hypothesis that cellular bioenergetic dysfunction caused by these compounds correlates with induction of cell death in differentiated dopaminergic neuroblastoma SH-SY5Y cells. At increasing doses, rotenone induced significant cell death accompanied with caspase 3 activation. At these concentrations, rotenone had an immediate inhibition of mitochondrial basal oxygen consumption rate (OCR) concomitant with a decrease of ATP-linked OCR and reserve capacity, as well as a stimulation of glycolysis. MPP+ exhibited a different behavior with less pronounced cell death at doses that nearly eliminated basal and ATP-linked OCR. Interestingly, MPP+, unlike rotenone, stimulated bioenergetic reserve capacity. The effects of 6-OHDA on bioenergetic function was markedly less than the effects of rotenone or MPP+ at cytotoxic doses, suggesting a mechanism largely independent of bioenergetic dysfunction. These studies suggest that these dopaminergic neurotoxins induce cell death through distinct mechanisms and differential effects on cellular bioenergetics. © 2012 Giordano et al.