Researchers discover physical structure of dopamine receptors

By Staff Writer

Despite the fact that the neurotransmitter dopamine is central to many of the brain’s functions, scientists knew relatively little about the brain’s receptors for it. However, a team of investigators from the Scripps Research Institute recently observed the physical structure of these receptors, which may benefit research into a range of mental disorders as well as addiction.

Dopamine dysfunction has been linked to a range of mental disorders, including depression, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and schizophrenia. Additionally, the neurotransmitter plays an important role in addiction to drugs like cocaine.

However, the discovery by the research team could enable scientists to develop more effective treatments for these conditions. Researchers said that there are five distinct structures of receptors for dopamine, and understanding the physical nature of these different receptors could assist in the development of targeted medications.

Dopamine is associated with the reward center of the brain. Drugs that stimulate release of the neurotransmitter can be extremely addictive. However, medications that interfere with this action could significantly reduce their addictiveness.