Catecholamine systems in the brain of vertebrates: new perspectives through a comparative approach

Brain Res Brain Res Rev. 2000 Sep;33(2-3):308-79. doi: 10.1016/s0165-0173(00)00034-5.


A comparative analysis of catecholaminergic systems in the brain and spinal cord of vertebrates forces to reconsider several aspects of the organization of catecholamine systems. Evidence has been provided for the existence of extensive, putatively catecholaminergic cell groups in the spinal cord, the pretectum, the habenular region, and cortical and subcortical telencephalic areas. Moreover, putatively dopamine- and noradrenaline-accumulating cells have been demonstrated in the hypothalamic periventricular organ of almost every non-mammalian vertebrate studied. In contrast with the classical idea that the evolution of catecholamine systems is marked by an increase in complexity going from anamniotes to amniotes, it is now evident that the brains of anamniotes contain catecholaminergic cell groups, of which the counterparts in amniotes have lost the capacity to produce catecholamines. Moreover, a segmental approach in studying the organization of catecholaminergic systems is advocated. Such an approach has recently led to the conclusion that the chemoarchitecture and connections of the basal ganglia of anamniote and amniote tetrapods are largely comparable. This review has also brought together data about the distribution of receptors and catecholaminergic fibers as well as data about developmental aspects. From these data it has become clear that there is a good match between catecholaminergic fibers and receptors, but, at many places, volume transmission seems to play an important role. Finally, although the available data are still limited, striking differences are observed in the spatiotemporal sequence of appearance of catecholaminergic cell groups, in particular those in the retina and olfactory bulb.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain Chemistry / physiology*
  • Catecholamines / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Species Specificity
  • Spinal Cord / metabolism
  • Vertebrates / physiology*


  • Catecholamines