The physiology, signaling, and pharmacology of dopamine receptors

Pharmacol Rev. 2011 Mar;63(1):182-217. doi: 10.1124/pr.110.002642. Epub 2011 Feb 8.


G protein-coupled dopamine receptors (D1, D2, D3, D4, and D5) mediate all of the physiological functions of the catecholaminergic neurotransmitter dopamine, ranging from voluntary movement and reward to hormonal regulation and hypertension. Pharmacological agents targeting dopaminergic neurotransmission have been clinically used in the management of several neurological and psychiatric disorders, including Parkinson's disease, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, Huntington's disease, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD(1)), and Tourette's syndrome. Numerous advances have occurred in understanding the general structural, biochemical, and functional properties of dopamine receptors that have led to the development of multiple pharmacologically active compounds that directly target dopamine receptors, such as antiparkinson drugs and antipsychotics. Recent progress in understanding the complex biology of dopamine receptor-related signal transduction mechanisms has revealed that, in addition to their primary action on cAMP-mediated signaling, dopamine receptors can act through diverse signaling mechanisms that involve alternative G protein coupling or through G protein-independent mechanisms via interactions with ion channels or proteins that are characteristically implicated in receptor desensitization, such as β-arrestins. One of the future directions in managing dopamine-related pathologic conditions may involve a transition from the approaches that directly affect receptor function to a precise targeting of postreceptor intracellular signaling modalities either directly or through ligand-biased signaling pharmacology. In this comprehensive review, we discuss dopamine receptor classification, their basic structural and genetic organization, their distribution and functions in the brain and the periphery, and their regulation and signal transduction mechanisms. In addition, we discuss the abnormalities of dopamine receptor expression, function, and signaling that are documented in human disorders and the current pharmacology and emerging trends in the development of novel therapeutic agents that act at dopamine receptors and/or on related signaling events.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Dopamine Agonists / pharmacology*
  • Dopamine Agonists / therapeutic use
  • Dopamine Antagonists / pharmacology*
  • Dopamine Antagonists / therapeutic use
  • Gene Expression Regulation / drug effects
  • Humans
  • Ligands
  • Molecular Targeted Therapy
  • Receptors, Dopamine / chemistry
  • Receptors, Dopamine / genetics
  • Receptors, Dopamine / physiology*
  • Signal Transduction / drug effects


  • Dopamine Agonists
  • Dopamine Antagonists
  • Ligands
  • Receptors, Dopamine