Non‐motor Function of the Midbrain Dopaminergic Neurons

  • Claudio Da CunhaEmail author
  • Evellyn Claudia Wietzikoski
  • Mariza Bortolanza
  • Patricia Andréia Dombrowski
  • Lucélia Mendes dos Santos
  • Suelen Lúcio Boschen
  • Edmar Miyoshi
  • Maria Aparecida Barbato Frazão Vital
  • Roseli Boerngen-Lacerda
  • Roberto Andreatini
Part of the Journal of Neural Transmission. Supplementa book series (NEURALTRANS, volume 73)


The roles of the nigrostriatal pathway are far beyond the simple control of motor functions. The tonic release of dopamine in the dorsal and ventral striatum controls the choice of proper actions toward a given environmental situation. In the striatum, a specific action is triggered by a specific stimulus associated with it. When the subject faces a novel and salient stimulus, the phasic release of dopamine allows synaptic plasticity in the cortico-striatal synapses. Neurons of different regions of cortical areas make synapses that converge to the same medium spine neurons of the striatum. The convergent associations form functional units encoding body parts, objects, locations, and symbolic representations of the subject’s world. Such units emerge in the striatum in a repetitive manner, like a mosaic of broken mirrors. The phasic release of dopamine allows the association of units to encode an action of the subject directed to an object or location with the outcome of this action. Reinforced stimulus-action-outcome associations will affect future decision making when the same stimulus (object, location, idea) is presented to the subject in the future. In the absence of a minimal amount of striatal dopamine, no action is initiated as seen in Parkinson’s disease subjects. The abnormal and improper association of these units leads to the initiation of unpurposeful and sometimes repetitive actions, as those observed in dyskinetic patients. The association of an excessive reinforcement of some actions, like drug consumption, leads to drug addiction. Improper associations of ideas and unpleasant outcomes may be related to traumatic and depressive symptoms common in many diseases, including Parkinson’s disease. The same can be said about the learning and memory impairments observed in demented and nondemented Parkinson’s disease patients.


Addiction Basal ganglia Dopamine Depression Learning Memory Parkinson’s disease 



Cyclic-AMPc response-element-binding protein


Corticotrophin-releasing factor


Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders


Gamma amino butyric acid


Globus pallidus


Huntington’s disease


Long-term potentiation


Nucleus accumbens


Parkinson’s disease


Positron emission tomography


Substantia nigra pars compacta


Substantia nigra pars reticulata


Tyrosine hydroxylase




Ventral tegmental area



We are grateful to Ms Suzana Meinhardt for the English revision of the manuscript. DaC, RA, MABFV are recipient of Conselho Nacional de Desenvolvimento Científico e Tecnológico (CNPq)/ Brazil fellowships. This work was supported by grants of Institutos do Milenio (CNPq/MCT), Pronex Paraná, Fundação Araucária, and FAPESP.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag/Wien Printed in Germany 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  • Claudio Da Cunha
    • 1
    Email author
  • Evellyn Claudia Wietzikoski
    • 1
  • Mariza Bortolanza
    • 1
  • Patricia Andréia Dombrowski
    • 1
  • Lucélia Mendes dos Santos
    • 1
  • Suelen Lúcio Boschen
    • 1
  • Edmar Miyoshi
    • 2
  • Maria Aparecida Barbato Frazão Vital
    • 1
  • Roseli Boerngen-Lacerda
    • 1
  • Roberto Andreatini
    • 1
  1. 1.Laboratório de Fisiologia e Farmacologia do Sistema Nervoso CentralDepartamento de Farmacologia Universidade Federal do Paraná (UFPR)CuritibaBrazil
  2. 2.Departamento de Ciências FarmacêuticasUniversidade Estadual de Ponta Grossa (UEPG)Ponta GrossaBrazil

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