Doping the Mind: Dopaminergic Modulation of Prefrontal Cortical Cognition

Neuroscientist. 2016 Dec;22(6):593-603. doi: 10.1177/1073858415602850. Epub 2015 Sep 3.


The prefrontal cortex is the center of cognitive control. Processing in prefrontal cortical circuits enables us to direct attention to behaviorally relevant events; to memorize, structure, and categorize information; and to learn new concepts. The prefrontal cortex receives strong projections from midbrain neurons that use dopamine as a transmitter. In this article, we review the crucial role dopamine plays as a modulator of prefrontal cognitive functions, in the primate brain in particular. Following a summary of the anatomy and physiology of the midbrain dopamine system, we focus on recent studies that investigated dopaminergic effects in prefrontal cortex at the cellular level. We then discuss how unregulated prefrontal dopamine signaling could contribute to major disorders of cognition. The studies highlighted in this review demonstrate the powerful influence dopamine exerts on the mind.

Keywords: cognitive control; dopamine; neuromodulation; nonhuman primate; prefrontal cortex.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Attention / physiology*
  • Cognition / physiology*
  • Dopamine / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Models, Neurological
  • Neurons / metabolism
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiology*


  • Dopamine