2-Minute Neuroscience: Dopamine

Welcome to 2 minute neuroscience, where I
explain neuroscience topics in 2 minutes or less. In this installment I will discuss dopamine. Dopamine is a monoamine neurotransmitter,
a term that refers to its chemical structure and the fact that it is derived from an amino
acid. Dopamine is also a catecholamine, a term that
also refers to its chemical structure and the fact that it contains a catechol nucleus. To synthesize dopamine, the amino acid tyrosine
is converted to L-dopa. Then L-DOPA is decarboxylated to form dopamine. There are several areas of the brain where
dopamine neurons are concentrated. The largest are the substantia nigra and ventral
tegmental area in the midbrain. Other areas include the hypothalamus, olfactory
bulb, and retina. There are several major dopamine pathways
that carry dopamine from these areas of concentration to other parts of the brain.

Some of the largest are the mesostriatal or
nigrostriatal pathway, which stretches from the substantia nigra to the striatum, the
mesolimbic pathway, which stretches from the ventral tegmental area to the nucleus accumbens
and other limbic structures, and the mesocortical pathway, which stretches from the ventral
tegmental area throughout the cerebral cortex. Dopamine acts at G-protein coupled receptors
and there are at least 5 subtypes of the dopamine receptor.

Dopamine is removed from the synaptic cleft
by a transporter protein called the dopamine transporter. Like any neurotransmitter, the functions of
dopamine are complex, and can’t be fully explained with just a short summary. Dopamine is linked to movement due to disorders
like Parkinson’s disease that involve dopamine deficiencies. It is also often associated with the processing
of rewarding experiences. However, dopamine also plays a role in many
other functions.

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