Glial cell line-derived neurotrophic factor (GDNF) improved motor function in Parkinson's disease (PD) patients in Phase I clinical trials, and these effects persisted months after GDNF discontinuation. Conversely, phase II clinical trials reported no significant effects on motor improvement vs placebo. The disease duration and the quantity, infusion approach, and duration of GDNF delivery may affect GDNF efficacy in PD treatment. However, identifying mechanisms activated by GDNF that affect nigrostriatal function may reveal additional avenues to partially restore nigrostriatal function. In PD and aging models, GDNF affects tyrosine hydroxylase (TH) expression or phosphorylation in substantia nigra (SN), long after a single GDNF injection in striatum. In aged rats, the GDNF family receptor, GFR-α1, increases TH expression and phosphorylation in SN. To determine if GFR-α1 could be a mechanistic link in long-term GDNF impact, we conducted two studies; first to determine if a single unilateral striatal delivery of GDNF affected GFR-α1 and TH over time (1 day, 1 week, and 4 weeks) in the striatum or SN in aged rats, and second, to determine if soluble GFR-α1 could mitigate TH loss following 6-hydroxydopamine (6-OHDA) lesion. In aged rats, GDNF bilaterally increased ser31 TH phosphorylation and GFR-α1 expression in SN at 1 day and 4 weeks after GDNF, respectively. In striatum, GFR-α1 expression decreased 1 week after GDNF, only on the GDNF-injected side. In 6-OHDA-lesioned rats, recombinant soluble GFR-α1 mitigated nigral, but not striatal, TH protein loss following 6-OHDA. Together, these results show GDNF has immediate and long-term impact on dopamine regulation in the SN, which includes a gradual increase in GFR-α1 expression that may sustain TH expression and dopamine function therein.