Computational modeling of extracellular dopamine kinetics suggests low probability of neurotransmitter release

Synapse. 2015 Nov;69(11):515-25. doi: 10.1002/syn.21845. Epub 2015 Sep 8.


Dopamine in the striatum signals the saliency of current environmental input and is involved in learned formation of appropriate responses. The regular baseline-firing rate of dopaminergic neurons suggests that baseline dopamine is essential for proper brain function. The first goal of the study was to estimate the likelihood of full exocytotic dopamine release associated with each firing event under baseline conditions. A computer model of extracellular space associated with a single varicosity was developed using the program MCell to estimate kinetics of extracellular dopamine. Because the literature provides multiple kinetic values for dopamine uptake depending on the system tested, simulations were run using different kinetic parameters. With all sets of kinetic parameters evaluated, at most, 25% of a single vesicle per varicosity would need to be released per firing event to maintain a 5-10 nM extracellular dopamine concentration, the level reported by multiple microdialysis experiments. The second goal was to estimate the fraction of total amount of stored dopamine released during a highly stimulated condition. This was done using the same model system to simulate published measurements of extracellular dopamine following electrical stimulation of striatal slices in vitro. The results suggest the amount of dopamine release induced by a single electrical stimulation may be as large as the contents of two vesicles per varicosity. We conclude that dopamine release probability at any particular varicosity is low. This suggests that factors capable of increasing release probability could have a powerful effect on sculpting dopamine signals.

Keywords: DAT; computational model; dopamine; striatum.

MeSH terms

  • Action Potentials / physiology
  • Algorithms
  • Animals
  • Computer Simulation*
  • Corpus Striatum / metabolism
  • Dopamine / metabolism*
  • Electric Stimulation
  • Extracellular Space / metabolism*
  • Kinetics
  • Mice
  • Microdialysis
  • Models, Neurological*
  • Monte Carlo Method
  • Nucleus Accumbens / metabolism
  • Probability
  • Rats
  • Synaptic Vesicles / metabolism


  • Dopamine