The mechanism behind the transport of dopamine in and out of brain cells has been discovered by researchers from the University of Florida. The knowledge can be potentially helpful to treat neurological disorders like Parkinson’s disease and drug addiction. The findings are published in Nature Communications.
Deciphering molecular pathways and mechanisms is key to understanding our body’s physiology and how to fight diseases. A new discovery pertaining to dopamine might pave the way to more effective treatment strategies for neurological conditions like Parkinson’s disease.
Dopamine is a neurotransmitter linked with several brain functions, and other organs. In the brain, it plays an important role in reward-motivated behaviour (neurones release dopamine as a response to life-sustaining or pleasurable activities like eating and sex), in motor control (movement), and in the release of several hormones. It is needed in amounts falling within a particular range: too little of it can cause Parkinson’s disease while too much of it has been associated with schizophrenia. Furthermore, its function has also been shown to be affected by drug use: cocaine and methamphetamine block its transport into neurones.
Study author Habibeh Khoshbouei, an associate professor of neuroscience from the UF College of Medicine says that understanding how dopamine flux across neurones is brought about by a protein known as dopamine transporter will provide insight into dopamine-related disorders. Knowing how the transport system works, he says, might then allow researchers to know how it can be fixed in case of malfunction.
The results of the study whereby mouse and human-derived dopamine neurones were analysed show that changes in electrical properties of the neurones impact on the movement of the chemical. This will then modify the functioning of the dopamine transporters. The resulting effects entail an abnormal chemical balance in the brain whereby the released dopamine is not put back into the neurones; the brain is not returned to a less-stimulated state, as should have been the case if the transporter was working properly. Abusing on drugs like cocaine and methamphetamine keep the brain in this stimulated state as neurones are blocked from taking in the excess dopamine.
Since dopamine’ functions entail movement, and reward and pleasurable feelings, if its transport system undergoes imbalance in this way, neurological and neuropsychiatric diseases arise. Therefore, understanding the transport system is hoped to help treat the diseases and drug addiction, explains Khoshbouei.