It has been proposed that GM1 ganglioside promotes neuronal growth, phenotypic expression, and survival by modulating tyrosine kinase receptors for neurotrophic factors. Our studies tested the hypothesis that GM1 exerts its neurotrophic action on dopaminergic neurons, in part, by interacting with the GDNF (glia cell-derived neurotrophic factor) receptor complex, Ret tyrosine kinase and GFRα1 co-receptor. GM1 addition to striatal slices in situ increased Ret activity in a concentration- and time-dependent manner. GM1-induced Ret activation required the whole GM1 molecule and was inhibited by the kinase inhibitors PP2 and PP1. Ret activation was followed by Tyr1062 phosphorylation and PI3 kinase/Akt recruitment. The Src kinase was associated with Ret and GM1 enhanced its phosphorylation. GM1 responses required the presence of GFRα1, and there was a GM1 concentration-dependent increase in the binding of endogenous GDNF which paralleled that of Ret activation. Neutralization of the released GDNF did not influence the Ret response to GM1, and GM1 had no effect on GDNF release. Our in situ studies suggest that GM1 via GFRα1 modulates Ret activation and phosphorylation in the striatum and provide a putative mechanism for its effects on dopaminergic neurons. Indeed, chronic GM1 treatment enhanced Ret activity and phosphorylation in the striatum of the MPTP-mouse and kinase activation was associated with recovery of dopamine and DOPAC deficits. It has been proposed that the ganglioside GM1 promotes neuronal growth, phenotypic expression, and survival by modulating tyrosine kinase receptors for neurotrophic factors. We provide evidence that the GM1 enhances the activity of Ret tyrosine kinase receptor for glia cell-derived neurotrophic factor (GDNF) in the striatum in situ and in vivo, and propose that this might be a mechanism for GM1's neurotrophic actions on dopaminergic neurons. Ret activation is followed by Tyr1062 and Tyr981 phosphorylation and recruitment of PI3-K/Akt, Erk, and Src signaling. GM1 apparently acts by increasing the binding of endogenous GDNF to GFRα1 co-receptor, which is required for the GM1 effect on Ret.