Dynamic regulation of midbrain dopamine neuron activity: intrinsic, synaptic, and plasticity mechanisms

Neuroscience. 2011 Dec 15;198:95-111. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroscience.2011.08.023. Epub 2011 Aug 16.


Although the roles of dopaminergic signaling in learning and behavior are well established, it is not fully understood how the activity of dopaminergic neurons is dynamically regulated under different conditions in a constantly changing environment. Dopamine neurons must integrate sensory, motor, and cognitive information online to inform the organism to pursue outcomes with the highest reward probability. In this article, we provide an overview of recent advances on the intrinsic, extrinsic (i.e., synaptic), and plasticity mechanisms controlling dopamine neuron activity, mostly focusing on mechanistic studies conducted using ex vivo brain slice preparations. We also hope to highlight some unresolved questions regarding information processing that takes place at dopamine neurons, thereby stimulating further investigations at different levels of analysis.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Action Potentials / drug effects
  • Action Potentials / physiology*
  • Animals
  • Dopamine / metabolism*
  • Dopamine Agents / pharmacology
  • Dopaminergic Neurons / drug effects
  • Dopaminergic Neurons / physiology*
  • Mesencephalon / cytology*
  • Neuronal Plasticity / drug effects
  • Neuronal Plasticity / physiology*
  • Synapses / drug effects
  • Synapses / physiology*


  • Dopamine Agents
  • Dopamine