Constipation is associated with future risk of Parkinson's disease (PD) and with incidental Lewy bodies (LB) in the locus ceruleus or substantia nigra (SN). Our purpose is to examine the independent association between bowel movement frequency in late-life and postmortem SN neuron density. Bowel movement frequency was assessed in the Honolulu-Asia Aging Study from 1991 to 1993 in 414 men aged 71 to 93 years with later postmortem evaluations. Brains were examined for LB in the SN and locus ceruleus and neurons were counted in four quadrants from a transverse section of SN. In nonsmokers, neuron densities (counts/mm(2)) for men with >1, 1, and <1 bowel movement daily were 18.5, 18.8, 10.1 (P < 0.001) for dorsomedial; 15.3, 16.4, 10.2 (P < 0.03) for ventromedial; and 18.6, 18.3, 10.9 (P = 0.011) for ventrolateral quadrants. Relationships were not significant in the dorsolateral quadrant or in any quadrant among smokers. After adjustment for age, time to death, coffee drinking, tricep skinfold thickness, excessive daytime sleepiness, cognitive function, PD, and incidental LB, density ratios in nonsmokers with 1 or more bowel movement(s) daily were significantly higher compared to those with <1 daily. Constipation is associated with low SN neuron density independent of the presence of LB.