Dopamine triggers skeletal muscle tone by activating D1-like receptors on somatic motoneurons

J Neurophysiol. 2011 Sep;106(3):1299-309. doi: 10.1152/jn.00230.2011. Epub 2011 Jun 8.


The dopamine system plays an integral role in motor physiology. Dopamine controls movement by modulation of higher-order motor centers (e.g., basal ganglia) but may also regulate movement by directly controlling motoneuron function. Even though dopamine cells synapse onto motoneurons, which themselves express dopamine receptors, it is unknown whether dopamine modulates skeletal muscle activity. Therefore, we aimed to determine whether changes in dopaminergic neurotransmission at a somatic motor pool affect motor outflow to skeletal muscles. We used microinjection, neuropharmacology, electrophysiology, and histology to determine whether manipulation of D(1)- and D(2)-like receptors on trigeminal motoneurons affects masseter and/or tensor palatini muscle tone in anesthetized rats. We found that apomorphine (a dopamine analog) activated trigeminal motoneurons and triggered a potent increase in both masseter and tensor palatini tone. This excitatory effect is mediated by D(1)-like receptors because specific D(1)-like receptor activation strengthened muscle tone and blockade of these receptors prevented dopamine-driven activation of motoneurons. Blockade of D(1)-like receptors alone had no detectable effect on basal masseter/tensor palatini tone, indicating the absence of a functional dopamine drive onto trigeminal motoneurons, at least during isoflurane anesthesia. Finally, we showed that D(2)-like receptors do not affect either trigeminal motoneuron function or masseter/tensor palatini muscle tone. Our results provide the first demonstration that dopamine can directly control movement by manipulating somatic motoneuron behavior and skeletal muscle tone.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Dopamine / administration & dosage*
  • Dopamine Agonists / administration & dosage
  • Dopamine Antagonists / administration & dosage
  • Male
  • Masseter Muscle / drug effects
  • Masseter Muscle / physiology
  • Microinjections
  • Motor Neurons / drug effects
  • Motor Neurons / metabolism*
  • Muscle Tonus / drug effects
  • Muscle Tonus / physiology*
  • Muscle, Skeletal / drug effects
  • Muscle, Skeletal / metabolism*
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Receptors, Dopamine D1 / agonists
  • Receptors, Dopamine D1 / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Receptors, Dopamine D1 / physiology*
  • Receptors, Dopamine D2 / physiology
  • Trigeminal Nuclei / physiology


  • Dopamine Agonists
  • Dopamine Antagonists
  • Receptors, Dopamine D1
  • Receptors, Dopamine D2
  • Dopamine