The mesotelencephalic dopamine system shows substantial genetic variation which fundamentally affects normal and pathological behaviors related to motor function, motivation, and learning. Our earlier radioenzyme assay studies demonstrated significantly higher activity of tyrosine hydroxylase (TH), the first and rate limiting enzyme in the biosynthesis of catecholamine neurotransmitters, in the substantia nigra – ventral tegmental area of BALB/cJ mice in comparison with that of C57BL/6ByJ mice. Here, using quantitative immunoblotting and immunocytochemistry, we tested the hypothesis that mesencephalic TH protein content and number of nigral TH-positive neurons show strain-dependent differences in C57BL/6ByJ and BALB/cJ parallel to those observed in the TH activity studies. Immunoblotting experiments detected significantly higher mesencephalic TH protein content in BALB/cJ in comparison to C57BL/6ByJ (p<0.05). Immunocytochemical studies demonstrated that the number of TH-positive cells in substantia nigra was 31.3% higher in BALB/cJ than that in C57BL/6ByJ (p<0.01), while the average dopamine neuron volume was not significantly different. In a search for candidate genes that modulate TH content and the size of mesencephalic dopamine neuron populations we also studied near-isogenic mouse sublines derived from the C57BL/6ByJ and BALB/cJ progenitor strains. A whole-genome scan with 768 single nucleotide polymorphism markers indicated that two sublines, C4A6/N and C4A6/B, were genetically very similar (98.3%). We found significantly higher mesencephalic tyrosine hydroxylase (TH) protein content in C4A6/B in comparison to C4A6/N (p=0.01), and a tendency for higher number of dopamine neurons in the substantia nigra in C4A6/B in comparison to C4A6/N, which, however, did not reach statistical significance. To identify the genetic source of the TH content difference we analyzed the SNP genotype data of the whole-genome scan, and detected two small differential chromosome segments on chr. 13 and chr. 14. Microarray gene expression studies and bioinformatic analysis of the two differential regions implicated two cis-regulated genes (Spock1 and Cxcl14, chr. 13), and two growth factor genes [Bmp6 (chr. 13), and Fgf14 (chr. 14)]. Taken together, the results suggest that (1) nigral dopamine neuron number and TH protein content may be genetically associated but further studies are needed to establish unequivocally this linkage, and (2) Spock1, Cxcl14, Bmp6, and Fgf14 are novel candidates for modulating the expression and maintenance of TH content in mesencephalic dopamine neurons in vivo.