The biochemical pathways involved in neuronal cell death in Parkinson's disease are not completely characterized. Mitochondrial dysfunction, specifically alteration of the mitochondrial complex I, is the primary target of the parkinsonian neurotoxin 1-methyl-4-phenylpyridinium (MPP+) induced apoptosis in neurons. In the present study, we examine the role of caspase-dependent and -independent routes in MPP+-induced apoptosis in rat cerebellar granule neurons (CGNs). We show a distinct increase in the expression of the cell cycle proteins cyclin D, cyclin E, cdk2, cdk4 and the transcription factor E2F-1 following a MPP+ treatment of CGNs. Flavopiridol (FLAV), a broad inhibitor of cyclin-dependent kinases (CDKs), attenuated the neurotoxic effects of MPP+ and significantly attenuates apoptosis mediated by MPP+ 200 microM. Likewise, the antioxidant vitamin E (vit E) increases neuronal cell viability and attenuates apoptosis induced by MPP+. Moreover, the expression levels of cyclin D and E2F-1 induced by this parkinsonian neurotoxin were also attenuated by vit E. Since, the broad-spectrum caspase inhibitor zVAD-fmk did not attenuate MPP+-induced apoptosis in CGNs, our data provide a caspase-independent mechanism mediated by neuronal reentry in the cell cycle and increased expression of the pro-apoptotic transcription factor E2F-1. Our results also suggest a potential role of oxidative stress in neuronal reentry in the cell cycle mediated by MPP+. Finally, our data further support the therapeutic potential of flavopiridol, for the treatment of Parkinson's disease.