Without dopamine, we wouldn’t be able to feel driven and motivated. Dopamine is also very important for our emotional responses, movement, pain, and the brain’s reward center. Many people seek out artificial sources of dopamine, which can lead to addiction. Read this post to learn about dopamine and ways to increase or decrease it.
- The Roles of Dopamine
- 1) Dopamine is Responsible for Motivation
- 2) Dopamine Increases the Anticipation of Pleasure
- 3) Dopamine Helps with Memory and Learning
- 4) Dopamine Increases Your Attention and Focus
- 5) Dopamine Makes You More Social and Extroverted
- 6) Dopamine Helps Form Romantic Attachments
- 7) Dopamine Helps Establish Maternal Behavior
- 8) Dopamine Can Decrease Inflammation Due to Th1 and Th17 Dominance
- 9) Dopamine Receptors Influence the Sleep Cycle
- 10) Dopamine Helps Increase Bone Strength
- 11) Dopamine Increases Creativity
- 12) Dopamine Speeds up Our Internal Clock
- 13) Dopamine Relieves Nausea
- 14) Dopamine Inhibits Prolactin
- 15) Dopamine Helps Movement
- 16) Normal Dopamine Levels Help Prevent Parkinson’s Disease
- 17) Dopamine Can Prevent Nearsightedness (Myopia)
- 18) Dopamine Stimulates Sexual Drive
- Cons of Dopamine
- Ways to Increase Your Dopamine Levels
- Genes and SNPs Related to Dopamine Function
- 1) Dopamine Receptor Genes
- 2) Dopamine Production, Breakdown, and Conversion
- Tyrosine Hydroxylase (TH)
- Dopamine beta-hydroxylase (DBH)
- Catechol-O-Methyltransferase (COMT)
- D-amino acid oxidase (DAO)
- DOPA decarboxylase (DDC)
- Monoamine oxidase A (MAOA)
- Monoamine oxidase B (MAOB)
- Cholinergic receptor nicotinic alpha 4 subunit (CHRNA4)
- Cholinergic receptor nicotinic beta 2 subunit (CHRNB2)
- Dystrobrevin binding protein 1 (DTNBP1)
- Fibroblast growth factor 20 (FGF20)
- 5-hydroxytryptamine receptor 2A (HTR2A or 5-HT2A)
- 5-hydroxytryptamine receptor 1A (HTR1A or 5-HT1A)
- 5-hydroxytryptamine receptor 1B (HTR1B)
- Parkin RBR E3 ubiquitin protein ligase (PRKN)
- Parkinsonism associated deglycase (PARK7)
- Synuclein alpha (SNCA)
- Angiotensin II receptor type 2 (AGTR2)
- GTP cyclohydrolase 1 (GCH1)
- G protein-coupled receptor 37 (GPR37)
- Transforming growth factor beta 2 (TGFB2)
- PTEN induced putative kinase 1 (PINK1)
- Neuropeptide Y receptor Y2 (NPY2R)
- 4-aminobutyrate aminotransferase (ABAT)
- Monooxygenase DBH-like 1 (MOXD1)
- 3) Genes Involved with Dopamine Binding
- 4) Genes Involved with Dopamine Transport
Dopamine is a neurotransmitter, which is a chemical released by neurons (nerve cells) to send signals to other nerve cells (R).
Many areas of the brain produce dopamine. It is produced in the ventral tegmental area (VTA in the image above) of the midbrain, the substantia nigra pars compacta, and the arcuate nucleus of the hypothalamus (R).
The most important dopamine pathway in the brain controls reward-motivated behavior (R).
Most types of rewards, such as new experiences or accomplishment, can increase dopamine levels in the brain. In addition, most addictive drugs and behavioral addictions can increase dopamine (R).
The Roles of Dopamine
1) Dopamine is Responsible for Motivation
In animal experiments, high, moderate and low concentrations of dopamine induce euphoric, seeking and aversive states, respectively (R).
Across different mammalian species, there is linkage between dopamine and the positive experiences associated with exploration, new learning and interest in one’s environment (R).
People often experience intrinsically motivated flow states in their daily activities have greater dopamine D2-receptor levels in specific brain regions (R).
On the other hand, low levels of dopamine make people and animals less likely to work for things. Dopamine blockade severely impairs effortful actions to obtain rewards (R).
2) Dopamine Increases the Anticipation of Pleasure
When exposed to a rewarding stimulus, the brain responds by releasing more dopamine (R).
During these pleasurable situations, dopamine is released and stimulates one to seek out the pleasurable activity (R).
Pleasurable experiences such as sex, food, games or even drug abuse can increase dopamine release (R).
This brain reward system promotes survival of the species by rewarding behaviors necessary for continued survival such as seeking food, reproduction, shelter, and drink, etc. These activities that are essential to species survival and activate this pathway are associated with ‘feeling good’ (R).
Histamine, acting on histamine H1 receptors, can potentiate dopamine receptors to become more sensitive to dopamine (R). Therefore, people with higher histamine levels or stronger H1 receptor activation may feel more pleasure from dopamine.
Dopamine does not mediate pleasure. It is known that the loss of dopamine does not affect the feeling of pleasure in humans or animals (R).
What it does is enhances the expectation of pleasure in humans (R).
3) Dopamine Helps with Memory and Learning
Dopamine signals important events. It helps you remember events that have motivational significance. This ensures that memories are relevant and accessible for future behavior (R).
Dopamine also plays an essential role in working memory. Working memory is the capacity to use information from short-term memory and use it to guide your own actions. Dopamine promotes nerve cell activity involved in working memory (R).
Serotonin also works with dopamine during memory formation. Activation of serotonin receptors can increase dopamine release in parts of the brain that are involved in cognition and memory formation, i.e. the prefrontal cortex and hippocampus) (R).
Dopamine release causes an individual to be motivated by certain stimuli. It can control and teach the individual different behaviors. Thus, it plays an important part during reward-driven learning (R).
4) Dopamine Increases Your Attention and Focus
Dopamine has a role in focus and attention (R).
Dopamine dysfunction in frontal lobes can cause a decline in attention or even attention deficit disorders (R).
Moderate levels of dopamine (not too high or too low) improve the capacity of individuals to switch attention efficiently between tasks (R). Furthermore, moderate levels of dopamine direct attention more efficiently to stimuli that are relevant to ongoing tasks (R).
5) Dopamine Makes You More Social and Extroverted
Dopamine and its pathways are associated with extroversion (R).
Higher dopamine levels in 16 male patients were associated with an extroverted personality (R).
People with genes that cause increase dopamine
The presence of the “C” allele in this SNP the DRD4 gene (in carriers of the COMT A/A genotype) showed high levels of extroversion and hypomania (R, R). The SNP is associated with more DRD4 receptors and therefore results in higher dopamine activity.
The “A” allele of this SNP in the DRD2 gene has been associated with a one-third reduction in D2-receptors. These people had significantly higher scores on trait Extroversion. Such individuals may be characterized by relatively higher Dopamine activity (as a result of receptor down-regulation) (R).
6) Dopamine Helps Form Romantic Attachments
When human subjects viewed photographs of people with whom they were in love, their brain activity patterns looked remarkably similar to those observed after cocaine infusions, or monetary reward, with heavy activation of dopamine-rich regions in the brain (R, R, R, R).
Prairie voles are mate for life. However, injecting prairie voles with dopamine blockers causes them to lose their monogamous tendencies—they fail to show any partner preference (R).
We know now that romantic bonding in humans is a result of the crosstalk vetween oxytocin, the “love molecule”, and dopamine (R).
7) Dopamine Helps Establish Maternal Behavior
Maternal behavior is the result of a highly-motivated brain, that allows the female to flexibly adapt her caring activities to different situations (R).
Dopamine, along with oxytocin, plays a key role in maternal behavior (R).
Increases in dopamine levels are observed during nursing bouts (R).
Injections of dopamine receptor blockers result in deficits in maternal behavior in rats. On the other hand, improvements in dopaminergic signaling positively impact the deficits observed in maternal behaviors (R).
8) Dopamine Can Decrease Inflammation Due to Th1 and Th17 Dominance
Low levels of dopamine would stimulate mainly the D3 receptor in T cells, favoring Th1-like responses and T cell activity. Moderate dopamine levels would stimulate the Dopamine D5 receptor as well, inhibiting T cell function. All of these increase inflammation (R).
Overall, higher dopamine levels decrease T cell response and inflammation (R).
DRD1 signaling inhibits the NLRP3 inflammasome. Inflammasomes are immune system receptors and sensors that induce inflammation in response to infectious microbes. DRD1 activation can potentially treat NLRP3-driven inflammation and diseases (R).
9) Dopamine Receptors Influence the Sleep Cycle
Dopamine and its receptors play a part in controlling the sleep-wake cycle (R).
Mainly, dopamine can help keep you awake and alert.
Dopamine D4 receptor combines with adrenaline receptors to block adrenergic receptor signaling and melatonin synthesis that is usually induced by the noradrenaline on the adrenergic receptor (R).
On the other hand, mice depleted of dopamine have a complete suppression of REM sleep. Activating dopamine receptors helped recover REM sleep. This indicates that dopamine is vital in regulating sleep (R).
DRD2 activation causes different effects depending on the levels of activation. Low levels of activation reduce wakefulness and increase Slow Wave (deep) and REM sleep. On the other hand, high DRD2 levels induce the opposite effect (R).
Compounds that block both D1 and D2 receptors reduce wakefulness and increase deep sleep (R).
Patients suffering from Parkinson’s disease may also have sleep disturbances because they have low dopamine (R).
10) Dopamine Helps Increase Bone Strength
Also, dopamine treatment increased bone cell formation and mineralization in mouse cell culture (R).
11) Dopamine Increases Creativity
Studies show that human creativity relies on dopamine. However, creativity is complex, and different aspects of creativity are affected by different dopaminergic systems (R).
A study shows that Parkinson’s disease patients treated with dopaminergic drugs show enhanced verbal and visual creativity (R).
Dopamine is involved in cognitive flexibility – one of the main components of creativity and creative thinking. Dopamine is also responsible for openness to new experiences, another factor associated with creativity (R).
In healthy people, creativity was positively correlated with grey matter in dopamine-rich regions of the brain (R).
A SNP in DRD2, rs1800497 T, is associated with reduced dopamine binding sites in the brain. This allele was related to higher verbal creativity (R).
A polymorphism in DRD4 has a complex relationship with creativity. DRD4-7R is associated with impaired flexibility associated with low creativity. On the other hand, this allele is associated with higher novelty-seeking associated with greater flexibility and creativity (R).
12) Dopamine Speeds up Our Internal Clock
Our sense of time is far from constant. For instance, time flies when we are having fun, and it slows to a trickle when we are bored (R).
The ‘internal clock’, is abnormally slow in Parkinson’s disease (R).
13) Dopamine Relieves Nausea
The stomach and intestines also have dopamine receptors. Dopamine acts through specific receptors to lower pressure in the gut. Drugs that increase dopamine activity stimulate the intestines to increase movement and function (R).
Drugs that block the DRD2 receptor can decrease nausea, perhaps by increasing dopamine activity.
14) Dopamine Inhibits Prolactin
The hypothalamus can release dopamine, which then acts as a hormone inside the brain (R).
It is important for prolactin hormone levels to be balanced. High prolactin levels (hyperprolactinemia) can cause reproductive problems in both men and women. Dopamine can help maintain healthy levels of prolactin (R).
15) Dopamine Helps Movement
The basal ganglia, which is the largest and most important sources of dopamine in the brain, controls movement (R). In order for the basal ganglia to function well, it requires sufficient dopamine release at the input nuclei (R).
16) Normal Dopamine Levels Help Prevent Parkinson’s Disease
Dopamine is responsible for the communication between two regions in the brain, which is the substantia nigra and the corpus striatum. This is critical in producing smooth, purposeful movement. Loss of dopamine in this circuit results in impaired movement (R).
The nerve cells in this circuit produce dopamine. Parkinson’s disease occurs when these nerve cells become impaired and/or die (R).
When approximately 60 to 80% of the dopamine-producing cells are damaged and do not produce enough dopamine, the motor symptoms of Parkinson’s disease appear (R).
Low dopamine levels contribute to the painful symptoms that frequently occur in Parkinson’s disease (R).
17) Dopamine Can Prevent Nearsightedness (Myopia)
The biggest risk for nearsightedness in people is the amount of time spent indoors (R).
Scientists can induce myopia in animals by lowering the level of light (R).
The leading hypothesis is that light stimulates the release of dopamine in the retina, and this in turn blocks the elongation of the eye during development (R).
Injecting a dopamine-inhibiting drug called spiperone into chicks’ eyes could abolish the protective effect of bright light (R).
Retinal dopamine is normally ramped up during the day, which helps daytime vision. Researchers now suspect that under dim (typically indoor) lighting, the cycle is disrupted, and this leads to myopia (R).
18) Dopamine Stimulates Sexual Drive
D1/D2 dopamine receptor activators help treat erectile dysfunction, which demonstrates the participation of the dopamine system in the control of sexual drive (R).
Drugs that stimulate the activation of hypothalamic dopamine may be effective in stimulating sexual desire in animals and humans (R).
Dopamine increased the response to sexual stimulation in men, but not women (R).
Dopamine can decrease prolactin, which can inhibit sexual drive (R).
Cons of Dopamine
1) Excess Dopamine May Cause Schizophrenia
Schizophrenia is characterized by negative symptoms such as apathy and poor social functioning, and positive symptoms, such as hallucinations and delusions (R).
The dopamine hypothesis proposes that schizophrenia is caused by excessive production of dopamine in the brain (R).
Studies support the idea that an overactive dopamine system may result in schizophrenia. Medications that block dopamine receptors, specifically D2 receptors, reduce schizophrenia symptoms (R).
Additionally, some evidence suggests that the negative symptoms and some of the cognitive deficits in schizophrenia may be related to lower prefrontal cortex function. This, in turn, may be associated with decreased dopamine activity. However, there is only indirect evidence to support this (R).
Thus, some features of negative schizophrenia (social withdrawal, apathy, and the inability to feel pleasure) are thought to be related to low dopamine levels in certain areas of the brain (R).
2) Dopamine Can Fuel Addiction
The reinforcing effects of these drugs don’t only come about because of increased dopamine, but also because of the fast rate that dopamine increases. The faster the increase, the more intense the reinforcing effects (R). This can damage or reduce the dopamine receptors over a period of time, causing increased needs for the drugs.
Long-term drug use seems to be associated with decreased dopamine function. The reductions in D2 dopamine receptors and dopamine release in the striatum in addicted subjects supports this hypothesis (R).
3) Dopamine Affects Weight
It is associated with the desire to eat the food and with the conditioning of food cues. It is also involved with the motivation to perform the behaviors necessary to buy, prepare, and consume the food (R).
So, dopamine will cause you to desire food when you simply smell it. It causes you to ‘want’ food as opposed to just ‘liking’ the food (R).
Because dopamine is released when someone eats food, this could contribute to overeating. They will seek to increase their dopamine levels with food consumption which can cause weight gain and obesity (R), especially in people with low dopamine levels.
Dopamine is also associated with the motivation to alleviate negative emotion through eating. In both normal-weight and obese participants, emotional eating was associated with higher dopamine receptor D2R binding (R).
4) High Levels of Dopamine Can Cause Aggression
High levels of dopamine can cause aggression. Blocking dopamine receptors decreases aggression in people (R).
5) Dopamine Decreases Empathy and Cooperation
Some observe that our modern society is a dopaminergic society. It is an extremely goal-oriented, fast-paced, and even manic society. Dopamine is known to increase activity levels, speed up our internal clocks, and create a preference for novel over unchanging environments (R).
On the other hand, high-dopamine individuals lack empathy and exhibit a more masculine behavioral style: conquest, competition, and aggression over nurturance and communality (R).
Increasing dopamine, decreases empathy. In human subjects, dopamine precursor levodopa increased the decisions to inflict pain on oneself and others for financial gain (R).
In a different study, people with the COMT 158Val variant, resulting in lower dopamine levels, showed higher cooperation compared to 158Met people with higher dopamine. Carriers of two 158Val variants (lower dopamine) are considered to be more helpful and empathic (R).
6) Dopamine Can Cause Constipation
Ways to Increase Your Dopamine Levels
1) Lifestyle to Increase Dopamine
- Sun/Being outside/Bright Light (R)
- Exercise (R)
- Meditation (R, R)
- Yoga (R)
- Massage Therapy (R)
- Music (R)
2) Supplements That Increase Dopamine
- Mucuna Pruriens (R)
- EGCG (Green Tea) (R)
- Tyrosine (R)- Tyrosine is found in the following foods: soy products, chicken, turkey, fish, peanuts, almonds, avocados, bananas, milk, cheese, yogurt, cottage cheese, lima beans, pumpkin seeds, and sesame seeds.
- D,L-phenylalaline (DLPA) (R)
- Muira Puama (R)
- Pregnenolone (R)
- SAM-e (R)
- Vitamin D (R)
- Caffeine (R)
- Lysine (R)
- Butyrate (R)
- L-Theanine (R, R)
- L-arginine (R)
- St. John’s Wort (R)
- Shilajit (R)
- Uridine (R)
- Huperzine A (R)
- Fish Oil/DHA (R)
- Curcumin (R)
- Gingko Biloba (R)
- Ginseng (R)
- Phosphatidylserine (R)
Drugs That Increase Dopamine
- Nicotine (R)
- L-dopa (R)
- Tianeptine (R)
- Semax (R)
- Phenibut (R)
- Alcohol (R)
- Methylphenidate (R)
- Modafinil (R)
- Deprenyl (Selegiline) (R)
- MDMA/Ecstasy (R)
- Amphetamines (R)
- Cocaine (R)
In cases of schizophrenia, you can use anti-psychotic drugs to lower dopamine levels (R).
Melatonin suppresses dopamine activity (R).
Genes and SNPs Related to Dopamine Function
In order to see your SNPs for these genes, sign up to SelfDecode and upload your genetic data by companies such as 23andme. When you click on a gene page, if you have your results loaded, it will show you your SNPs related to your genes.
1) Dopamine Receptor Genes
Dopamine D1 Receptor gene (DRD1)
This gene encodes D1 dopamine receptors, which regulates neuronal growth and behavior (R).
Dopamine D2 Receptor gene (DRD2) (R)
Dopamine D3 Receptor gene (DRD3)
DRD3 encodes dopamine receptors that are located in the limbic areas of the brain, which are associated with cognitive, emotional, and endocrine functions (R).
Dopamine D4 Receptor gene (DRD4) (R)
Dopamine D5 Receptor gene (DRD5)
2) Dopamine Production, Breakdown, and Conversion
Tyrosine Hydroxylase (TH)
TH protein results in the increased chemical synthesis of dopamine. It is involved in the conversion of tyrosine to dopamine (R).
DBH helps with the conversion of dopamine to noradrenaline (R).
COMT is an enzyme that degrades dopamine. It breaks down dopamine mostly in parts of the brain that are responsible for higher cognitive or executive function (prefrontal cortex) (R).
D-amino acid oxidase (DAO)
DAO contributes to dopamine synthesis (R).
DOPA decarboxylase (DDC)
DDC helps with the conversion of L-DOPA to dopamine. It is part of the pathway that produces dopamine and serotonin (R).
Monoamine oxidase A (MAOA)
This is an enzyme that breaks down dopamine (R).
Monoamine oxidase B (MAOB)
This is an enzyme that breaks down dopamine (R).
CHRNA4 encodes a protein that is involved in the regulation of dopamine synthesis (R).
CHRNB2 encodes a protein that is involved in the positive regulation of dopamine synthesis (R).
Dystrobrevin binding protein 1 (DTNBP1)
DTNBP1 encodes a protein that is involved in the regulation of dopamine synthesis (R).
Fibroblast growth factor 20 (FGF20)
FGF20 encodes a protein that is involved in the regulation of dopamine synthesis (R).
5-hydroxytryptamine receptor 2A (HTR2A or 5-HT2A)
HTR2A, a serotonin receptor, is involved in the regulation of dopamine synthesis (R).
5-hydroxytryptamine receptor 1A (HTR1A or 5-HT1A)
HTR1A increases dopamine release in the medial prefrontal cortex, striatum, and hippocampus, which could be beneficial for Schizophrenia and Parkinson’s (R).
5-hydroxytryptamine receptor 1B (HTR1B)
HTR1B is a protein that is thought to inhibit the release of dopamine in the frontal cortex (R).
PRKN is involved in the regulation of dopamine synthesis, the dopamine metabolic process, dopamine uptake, and dopamine secretion (R).
PARK7 is involved in the positive regulation of dopamine biosynthetic process (R).
Synuclein alpha (SNCA)
SNCA reduces dopamine release and uptake (R).
Angiotensin II receptor type 2 (AGTR2)
AGTR2 is involved with the dopamine biosynthetic process (R).
GTP cyclohydrolase 1 (GCH1)
GCH1 is associated with the dopamine biosynthetic process (R).
G protein-coupled receptor 37 (GPR37)
GPR37 is associated with the dopamine transporter to help regulate dopamine uptake (R).
TGFB2 is involved with the dopamine biosynthetic process (R).
PTEN induced putative kinase 1 (PINK1)
This protein increases the secretion of dopamine (R).
Neuropeptide Y receptor Y2 (NPY2R)
NPY2R is involved in the positive regulation of dopamine secretion (R).
ABAT is involved in the negative regulation of dopamine secretion and positive regulation of the dopamine metabolic process (R).
Monooxygenase DBH-like 1 (MOXD1)
MOXD1 is involved with breaking down dopamine (R).
3) Genes Involved with Dopamine Binding
Adrenoceptor beta 2 (ADRB2)
ADRB2 is involved with dopamine binding (R).
G protein-coupled receptor 143 (GPR143)
GPR143 is involved with dopamine binding. It is a receptor for tyrosine, L-DOPA, and dopamine (R).
4) Genes Involved with Dopamine Transport
Solute carrier family 22 member 1 (SLC22A1)
This gene encodes for a protein involved in dopamine transport (R).
Solute carrier family 22 member 2 (SLC22A2)
This gene encodes for a protein involved in dopamine transport (R).
Solute carrier family 22 member 3 (SLC22A3)
This gene encodes for a protein involved in dopamine transport (R).
Solute carrier family 6 member 3 (SLC6A3)
This gene encodes a protein dopamine transporter, which transports dopamine into the cell (R).
Vesicular monoamine transporter 2 (VMAT2)
This is a protein encoded by the SLC18A2 gene. It is involved with dopamine transport (R).
Torsin family 1 member A (TOR1A)
This gene regulates the location of dopamine transporter SLC6A3, which also makes it in control of dopamine transmission (R).
- During wakefulness, an increase of burst firing activity of dopamine neurons can occur. There is also an enhanced release of dopamine in various parts of the brain. The VTA, the nucleus accumbens, and a number of forebrain structures (R).
- Schizophrenia is characterized by abnormally low prefrontal dopamine activity, which leads to excessive dopamine activity in mesolimbic dopamine (R).
- Mutant mice that do not synthesize dopamine die of starvation owing to a lack of motivation to eat. Restoring neurotransmission in the striatum rescues these animals, whereas restoring it in the nucleus accumbens does not (R).
- Stimulation of D5 receptors on Dendritic Cells causes Th17 dominance (by increasing production of IL-23), which opposes its immune inhibitory effects in other situations (R).
- In addition to inhibiting PRL release by controlling calcium fluxes, dopamine activates several interacting intracellular signaling pathways. It also suppresses PRL gene expression and lactotroph proliferation (R).