Rewards, Pleasure, More: Just how powerful is dopamine?

Decision, motivation and reward: what is the general theme conveyed by the words listed? There are various perspectives to consider when answering this question, one being neurological. These words may seem trivial; however, they dictate how an individual interacts with the external world. How so? What is the relation between the words and the neurological aspect of an individual? It is safe to assume that actions based on thoughts can be traced to the brain.

Essentially, chemical messengers are released, which influences an individual’s behavior, to an extent. These chemical signals can be referred to as neurotransmitters. Various neurotransmitters exist, such as dopamine, serotonin and epinephrine (adrenaline); production and regulation of neurotransmitters are tightly controlled.

Dopamine is a well-known neurotransmitter that influences many functions. It is typically associated with the pleasure and rewards area of the brain; however, dopamine is involved in various other areas, aside the rewards and pleasure regions. How does dopamine affect an individual?

The topic of dopamine is beautifully complex. This article will answer the questions above, through the exploration of the biochemical aspects of dopamine. The article will also explore dopamine’s influence in schizophrenia. The information discussed in the article serves solely as an educational and factual platform, provided through the analysis of data from several experiments and research articles. The topic of this article is a result of Dr. Haines’s Biochemistry II project, which encouraged students to apply knowledge and experiences gained during the class.

What is dopamine? Dopamine is a chemical substance primarily produced in the substantia nigra and ventral tegmental areas of the brain; this substance functions as a neurotransmitter in the central nervous system. A neurotransmitter is a chemical that is released from neurons (nerve cells); these chemicals travel from neuron to neuron, relaying a message in the form of a signal. This neurotransmitter is responsible for an individual’s focus, depression, pleasure, emotional arousal and movement. Dopamine is made from the amino acid, tyrosine, which is an essential amino acid.

As dopamine is produced, it has various pathways it can travel that defines its functions. Some of the main pathways of dopamine are mesolimbic, mesocortical and nigrostriatal. The mesolimbic pathway involves dopamine being released through the mesolimbic pathway, which deals with the rewards system, reinforcement and pleasure. In the mesocortical pathway, dopamine results in cognitive and emotional control. In the nigrostriatal pathway, dopamine is involved with motor functions. Abnormal dopamine activity in these pathways, as well as other areas of the brain, could possibly result in some disorders, according to several articles. In the particular case of schizophrenia, abnormal regulation of dopamine in the pathways, as well as in the hippocampus, prefrontal cortex, and the striatum has been linked to the disorder.

What exactly is schizophrenia? The name schizophrenia translates to “split mind”, meaning there’s a disconnect between reality and the mind. According to the American Psychiatric Association, it is important to understand that the disorder itself does not mean split personality or multiple-personality.  Schizophrenia is a chronic mental disorder that has active states and non-active states. Individuals diagnosed with this mental disorder have normal states or normal behavior, which are referred to as non-active states.

The active states of schizophrenia are known as episodes. When the episodes occur in a person, there are three types of symptoms that are displayed: negative, positive and cognitive. The negative symptoms in schizophrenia show signs of the person having abnormal emotional reactions or behavior. The positive symptoms in schizophrenia shows signs of the person being disconnected from the external world. The cognitive symptoms involve the difficulty of utilizing mental reasoning required for daily life. Any combination of the three types of symptoms could possibly occur simultaneously.

Through experimentation, schizophrenia has been extensively researched in order to discover the factors that causes it. The common consensus among the results reveal that abnormal neurotransmission provides the basis for theories on the pathophysiology of schizophrenia.

The discovery of dopamine’s significance is fairly new. This means that the study of dopamine, as well as its relation to schizophrenia, is still in the beginning stages. It is important to note that information provided above is not set in stone. On the contrary, this information above can be modified or completely changed years from now. In general, the research and experiments conducted on dopamine and schizophrenia reveal a link. However, the detailed pathologies of dopamine in relation to schizophrenia is not absolutely certain. Another important piece of information to keep in mind is that dopamine is not the only neurotransmitter that is involved in schizophrenia; there are other neurotransmitters that are involved as well.

Hopefully with time, researchers will be able to have a better understanding of dopamine and schizophrenia, which would lead to more effective medication.

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