The roles of dopamine and serotonin, and of their receptors, in regulating sleep and waking

Prog Brain Res. 2008:172:625-46. doi: 10.1016/S0079-6123(08)00929-1.


Based on electrophysiological, neurochemical and neuropharmacological approaches, it is currently accepted that serotonin (5-HT) and dopamine (DA) function to promote waking (W) and to inhibit slow wave sleep (SWS) and/or rapid-eye-movement sleep (REMS). Serotonergic neurons of the dorsal raphe nucleus (DRN) fire at a steady rate during W, decrease their firing during SWS and virtually cease activity during REMS. On the other hand, DA cells in the ventral tegmental area (VTA) and the substantia nigra pars compacta (SNc) do not change their mean firing rate across the sleep-wake cycle. It has been proposed that DA cells in the midbrain show a change in temporal pattern rather than firing rate during the sleep-wake cycle. Available evidence tends to indicate that during W and REMS an increase of burst firing activity of DA neurons occurs together with an enhanced release of DA in the VTA, the nucleus accumbens and several forebrain structures. Recently, DA neurons were characterised in the ventral periaqueductal grey matter (VPAG) that express Fos protein during W. Lesioning of these cells resulted in an increase of SWS and REMS, which led to the proposal that VPAG DA neurons may play a role in the promotion of W. Systemic injection of full agonists at postsynaptic 5-HT(1A) (8-OH-DPAT, flesinoxan), 5-HT(1B) (CGS 12066B, CP-94,253), 5-HT(2A/2C) (DOI, DOM) and 5-HT(3) (m-chlorophenylbiguanide) receptors increases W and reduces SWS and REMS. On the other hand, microdialysis perfusion or direct infusion of 8-OH-DPAT or flesinoxan into the DRN, where somatodendritic 5-HT(1A) receptors are located, significantly increases REMS. Systemic administration of the selective DA D(1) receptor agonist SKF 38393 induces behavioural arousal together with an increase of W and a reduction of sleep. On the other hand, injection of a DA D(2) receptor agonist (apomorphine, bromocriptine, quinpirole) gives rise to biphasic effects, such that low doses reduce W and augment SWS and REMS whereas large doses induce the opposite effects. Not much is known about dopamine-serotonin interaction in the regulation of sleep and W. It has been shown that VTA and SNc DA neurons and DRN 5-HT neurons influence each other. Thus, depending on the receptor subtype involved, 5-HT either facilitates or inhibits the functioning of DA cells. On the other hand, activation of DA D(2)-like receptors in the DRN increases the activity of 5-HT neurons. Thus, it can be speculated that local microinjection of DA and 5-HT ligands into the DRN and the VTA/SNc, respectively, would affect the actions of the corresponding neurons on sleep and W.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Action Potentials / physiology
  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal / physiology
  • Brain / anatomy & histology
  • Brain / metabolism
  • Dopamine / metabolism*
  • Dopamine Agonists / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Neural Pathways / anatomy & histology
  • Neural Pathways / physiology
  • Neurons / physiology
  • Parkinson Disease / physiopathology
  • Protein Isoforms / metabolism
  • Receptors, Dopamine / metabolism*
  • Receptors, Serotonin / metabolism*
  • Schizophrenia / physiopathology
  • Serotonin / metabolism*
  • Serotonin Receptor Agonists / metabolism
  • Sleep / physiology*
  • Sleep Stages / physiology
  • Wakefulness / physiology*


  • Dopamine Agonists
  • Protein Isoforms
  • Receptors, Dopamine
  • Receptors, Serotonin
  • Serotonin Receptor Agonists
  • Serotonin
  • Dopamine