Amphetamine and other psychostimulants reduce pH gradients in midbrain dopaminergic neurons and chromaffin granules: a mechanism of action

Neuron. 1990 Dec;5(6):797-808. doi: 10.1016/0896-6273(90)90339-h.


Rewarding properties of psychostimulants result from reduced uptake and/or increased release of dopamine at mesolimbic synapses. As exemplified by cocaine, many psychostimulants act by binding to the dopamine uptake transporter. However, this does not explain the action of other psychostimulants, including amphetamine. As most psychostimulants are weak bases and dopamine uptake into synaptic vesicles uses an interior-acidic pH gradient, we examined the possibility that psychostimulants might inhibit acidification. Pharmacologically relevant concentrations of amphetamine as well as cocaine and phencyclidine rapidly reduced pH gradients in cultured midbrain dopaminergic neurons. To examine direct effects on vesicles, we used chromaffin granules. The three psychostimulants, as well as fenfluramine, imipramine, and tyramine, reduced the pH gradient, resulting in reduced uptake and increased release of neurotransmitter. Inhibition of acidification by psychoactive amines contributes to their pharmacology and may provide a principal molecular mechanism of action of amphetamine.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Amphetamine / pharmacology*
  • Animals
  • Cells, Cultured
  • Chromaffin Granules / drug effects
  • Chromaffin Granules / metabolism*
  • Cocaine / pharmacology
  • Dopamine / metabolism*
  • Fenfluramine / pharmacology
  • Hydrogen-Ion Concentration
  • Imipramine / pharmacology
  • Immunoenzyme Techniques
  • Mesencephalon / drug effects
  • Mesencephalon / metabolism*
  • Microscopy, Electron
  • Neurons / drug effects
  • Neurons / metabolism*
  • Phencyclidine / pharmacology
  • Psychotropic Drugs / pharmacology*
  • Rats
  • Serotonin / metabolism
  • Tyramine / pharmacology


  • Psychotropic Drugs
  • Fenfluramine
  • Serotonin
  • Amphetamine
  • Cocaine
  • Phencyclidine
  • Imipramine
  • Dopamine
  • Tyramine