Dopamine midbrain neurons in health and Parkinson's disease: emerging roles of voltage-gated calcium channels and ATP-sensitive potassium channels

Neuroscience. 2015 Jan 22;284:798-814. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroscience.2014.10.037. Epub 2014 Oct 30.


Dopamine (DA) releasing midbrain neurons are essential for multiple brain functions, such as voluntary movement, working memory, emotion and cognition. DA midbrain neurons within the substantia nigra (SN) and the ventral tegmental area (VTA) exhibit a variety of distinct axonal projections and cellular properties, and are differentially affected in diseases like schizophrenia, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and Parkinson's disease (PD). Apart from having diverse functions in health and disease states, DA midbrain neurons display distinct electrical activity patterns, crucial for DA release. These activity patterns are generated and modulated by specific sets of ion channels. Recently, two ion channels have been identified, not only contributing to these activity patterns and to functional properties of DA midbrain neurons, but also seem to render SN DA neurons particularly vulnerable to degeneration in PD and its animal models: L-type calcium channels (LTCCs) and ATP-sensitive potassium channels (K-ATPs). In this review, we focus on the emerging physiological and pathophysiological roles of these two ion channels (and their complex interplay with other ion channels), particularly in highly vulnerable SN DA neurons, as selective degeneration of these neurons causes the major motor symptoms of PD.

Keywords: Ca(v)1.3; D2-autoreceptor; KChip3; Kir6.2; excitotoxicity; voltage gated calcium channels.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Calcium Channels, L-Type / metabolism*
  • Dopamine / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • KATP Channels / metabolism*
  • Mesencephalon / metabolism*
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Parkinson Disease / physiopathology*


  • Calcium Channels, L-Type
  • KATP Channels
  • Dopamine