Norepinephrine versus dopamine and their interaction in modulating synaptic function in the prefrontal cortex

Brain Res. 2016 Jun 15;1641(Pt B):217-33. doi: 10.1016/j.brainres.2016.01.005. Epub 2016 Jan 11.


Among the neuromodulators that regulate prefrontal cortical circuit function, the catecholamine transmitters norepinephrine (NE) and dopamine (DA) stand out as powerful players in working memory and attention. Perturbation of either NE or DA signaling is implicated in the pathogenesis of several neuropsychiatric disorders, including attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), schizophrenia, and drug addiction. Although the precise mechanisms employed by NE and DA to cooperatively control prefrontal functions are not fully understood, emerging research indicates that both transmitters regulate electrical and biochemical aspects of neuronal function by modulating convergent ionic and synaptic signaling in the prefrontal cortex (PFC). This review summarizes previous studies that investigated the effects of both NE and DA on excitatory and inhibitory transmissions in the prefrontal cortical circuitry. Specifically, we focus on the functional interaction between NE and DA in prefrontal cortical local circuitry, synaptic integration, signaling pathways, and receptor properties. Although it is clear that both NE and DA innervate the PFC extensively and modulate synaptic function by activating distinctly different receptor subtypes and signaling pathways, it remains unclear how these two systems coordinate their actions to optimize PFC function for appropriate behavior. Throughout this review, we provide perspectives and highlight several critical topics for future studies. This article is part of a Special Issue entitled SI: Noradrenergic System.

Keywords: Dopamine; Neuromodulator; Norepinephrine; Prefrontal cortex; Psychiatric disorders.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Dopamine / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Norepinephrine / metabolism*
  • Prefrontal Cortex / cytology
  • Prefrontal Cortex / growth & development
  • Prefrontal Cortex / metabolism*
  • Synapses / metabolism*
  • Synaptic Transmission / physiology*


  • Dopamine
  • Norepinephrine