Clinical studies report significant increases in acrolein (an α,β-unsaturated aldehyde) in the substantia nigra (SN) of patients with Parkinson's disease (PD). In the present study, acrolein-induced neurotoxicity in the nigrostriatal dopaminergic system was investigated by local infusion of acrolein (15, 50, 150 nmoles/0.5 μl) in the SN of Sprague-Dawley rats. Acrolein-induced neurodegeneration of nigrostriatal dopaminergic system was delineated by reductions in tyrosine hydroxylase (TH) levels, dopamine transporter levels and TH-positive neurons in the infused SN as well as in striatal dopamine content. At the same time, apomorphine-induced turning behavior was evident in rats subjected to a unilateral infusion of acrolein in SN. Acrolein was pro-oxidative by increasing 4-hydroxy-2-nonenal and heme oxygenase-1 levels. Furthermore, acrolein conjugated with proteins at lysine residue and induced α-synuclein aggregation in the infused SN. Acrolein was pro-inflammatory by activating astrocytes and microglia. In addition, acrolein activated caspase 1 in the infused SN, suggesting acrolein-induced inflammasome formation. The neurotoxic mechanisms underlying acrolein-induced neurotoxicity involved programmed cell death, including apoptosis and necroptosis. Compared with well-known Parkinsonian neurotoxins, including 1-methyl-4-phenyl-1,2,3,6-Tetrahydropyridine and rotenone which do not exist in the SN of PD patients, our in vivo study shows that acrolein acts as a Parkinsonian neurotoxin in the nigrostriatal dopaminergic system of rat brain.