Anatomy and physiology

What is dopamine? Is it good or bad!

What is dopamine? Posted On

What is dopamine? It is the most crucial question which is linked in our today’s daily life. 

Suppose you visit a shopping mall and you see various offers are running on products like – 


Buy only Rs. 499/- 

These exclusive offers and deals force your mind to buy products. 

Well! In today’s time, we all are trapped in certain shopping offers, social media platforms, video games, smartphones, YouTube, Netflix, eating junk foods, etc. 

What is dopamine?

We spend most of our time in these activities instead of giving more attention to exercise, health, diet, working on goals, and reading books. Because they give us a pleasurable feeling. 

The reason behind these pleasurable feeling is dopamine. 

These types of activities strongly trigger dopamine in your brain. Due to the influence of dopamine, you feel happy and pleasurable. 

In this article, I will talk about what is dopamine and how does it work in your life. So, Let’s start the topic – 


What is dopamine, and what is it responsible for? 

Your body makes several chemicals. Dopamine is an important one among them. It acts as a chemical messenger or neurotransmitter because it helps pass information from one nerve cell to another.


Generally, this neurotransmitter is produced in specific midbrain areas like substantia nigra, VTA(ventral tegmental area) and hypothalamus. These areas are known as dopamine-rich nuclei or factories of dopamine. 

This neurotransmitter travels in a particular area of the brain. That area is known as the Dopaminergic pathway

What is dopamine?

It has four significant pathways that help to convey important information. Every path has its own function and responsibility. 


1. Mesolimbic Pathways 

This pathway covers the midbrain area. Dopamine transmits from VTA (ventral tegmental area) to nucleus accumbens

This area is strongly associated with pleasure, reward, and addiction. Whenever you encounter activities like eating junk food, sex, drugs, etc. Your dopamine influence and kick this area. 

If there is overstimulation of this area, it may develop an addiction. 

The excess intake of drug substances (like cocaine, heroin, nicotine, alcohol, etc.) is responsible for addiction. Moreover, that may lead to schizophrenia, mania, and ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder).


2. Mesocortical Pathways 

This pathway also begins at VTA, and their action potential generates till prefrontal cortex. It helps coordinate executive functions like – attention, planning, skills, learning, reasoning, problem-solving, etc. 

If there is any dysfunction in this area, you will develop a lack of concentration, depression, and inability to decide.


3. Nigrostriatal Pathways

In this pathway, this neurotransmitter travels from substantia nigra to striatum. It is also a dopamine-rich area that contains 80% dopamine in the brain. 

It is an important area that controls motor functions like walking, running, sitting, jumping, etc. 

If there is less dopamine supply in this area, it may lead to Parkinson’s disorder, tardive dyskinesia, tremors, etc. 


4. Tuberoinfundibular Pathways

This pathway transmits dopamine from the hypothalamus to the pituitary gland and regulates the secretion of the prolactin hormone.

A high dopamine level inhibits the prolactin release whereas a low level of this neurotransmitter increases the secretion of prolactin.

If there is an increased prolactin level, it can affect menstrual cycles, galactorrhea, sexual desire, fertility, etc. 



What is the synthesis precursor for dopamine?

It is a catecholamine that contains a catechol ring and amine group ring. 

What is dopamine?

When you eat protein food, its breakdown into different amino acids. Then these amino acids travel into the blood circulation and distribute in various tissue.

Among these amino acids, tyrosine goes to the nerve ending area, which is called the synaptic knob. Inside the synaptic knob – 


                      ↓hydroxylation by tyrosine hydroxylase

DOPA (Dihydroxyphenylalanine)

                   ↓ decarboxylation by DOPA decarboxylase



This neurotransmitter store in synaptic vesicles. When the action potential generates then exocytosis of synaptic vesicles takes place. 

After dopamine release, it binds to dopamine GPCR (G-protein coupled receptor) receptor-like D1, D2, D3, D4, and D5. 

It is reuptake (reabsorb/restore) by vesicular reuptake (inside the synapse) and neuronal reuptake (outside the synapse). 

Furthermore, it is degraded by MAO (monoamine oxidase) enzyme inside the synaptic knob and COMT (Catechol-O-methyltransferase) enzyme outside the synaptic knob. 

Cocaine and amphetamine drugs are typical examples of drug addiction. They inhibit the uptake of dopamine and increase the amount of this neurotransmitter in the synaptic gap. 

Due to the increased neurotransmitter release around the dopamine receptor, you feel much pleasurable feeling and addiction. And, this addiction is responsible for disturbs your natural production of dopamine. 



How does dopamine make us feel? 

Suppose your favourite food is pizza, and you are extremely craving for that food. When you visit a pizza hut and smell, your brain starts to increase dopamine. 

Generally, it is released when you do any pleasurable activities like 

  • Craving for a tasty meal
  • Winning a prize
  • Having sex
  • Gossip with friends 
  • Playing video games
  • Watching YouTube, Netflix, etc. 


It makes you feel better, euphoria, and happy. It also releases in non-pleasurable activities but less amount. So, the level of pleasure feeling depends on your day-to-day activities.

We usually fluctuate between high and low dopamine levels throughout the day. 

  • Low level – less likely to work as study, exercise, eating a healthy diet and any uncomfortable situation.
  • Moderate level  – unexpected reward like promotion, salary hike, surprise gift, etc.
  • High level  – shopping, video games, social media, gambling, sex, eating junk foods (like a burger, pizza, or cold drinks)
  • Extreme high level  – uncertain substances like cocaine, heroin, alcohol, nicotine, etc.


Generally, we procrastinate low dopamine activity because it does not give much pleasure. So, it is difficult to do low dopamine activity after doing high dopamine activity.

What is dopamine?


What happens when dopamine levels are high?

Dopamine levels usually high in those activities where you feel pleasure and happiness. 

Although, many activities influence your neurotransmitters. For example, if you are playing a video game-like PUBG and you are quite engaged. Even you are skipping the meal and you don’t know the end result of this activity. 

What is dopamine?

However, this video game is giving you intense pleasure because of the high dopamine level. The high level of this neurotransmitter makes you feel good, and this good feeling provokes you to repeat those activities. 

Some drug substances (like cocaine, heroin, amphetamine, nicotine, alcohol, etc.) kick your dopamine at a high level

What is dopamine?

It makes you feel at the top of the world. 

But too much level of this neurotransmitter may be a big problem for you. It may lead to mania, schizophrenia, delusion, hallucination, addiction, etc. 

Despite “high (substance user)” people know the harmful effect, they use it repeatedly because they are habitual of it. Eventually, they get an addiction. 


What is the clinical importance of Dopamine?

Dopamine is also available in medicine form, and it is also known as a lifesaving drug. It is rarely used when you get a deficiency of this neurotransmitter. 

However, its influence is not limited to the brain; its effects are also found in the circulatory system. It is used to treat cardiogenic or septic shock and severe congestive heart failure as it acts as a pressor agent. 

In other words, it helps in the condition of low blood pressure, low heart rate, and heart failure. So, it is an excellent cardioprotective drug.

It also works on the kidney, which helps dilate renal vessels and increase sodium or water excretion. So, it is renoprotective as well. 

It does not cross the blood-brain barrier. So, it can’t give directly to Parkinson’s disease patients. In this condition, Levodopa and carbidopa are classical drugs that help to boost the dopamine level. 



Here, I have tried to explain “what is dopamine?” in an easy way. 

Whatever you enjoy, any pleasurable activities in your life because of this neurotransmitter.

But, the homeostasis of dopamine is essential for our life. It should be neither high nor low. It may lead to medical conditions and addiction if this neurotransmitter level disturb. 

Moreover, you can naturally boost your dopamine level like exercise, protein diet, meditation, healthy diet, etc. 

I hope you have learned something new from today’s article. If you found this post to be informative, share it on social media.


References –


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