Direct affinity of dopamine to lipid membranes investigated by Nuclear Magnetic Resonance spectroscopy

Neurosci Lett. 2016 Apr 8;618:104-109. doi: 10.1016/j.neulet.2016.02.052. Epub 2016 Mar 6.


Dopamine, a naturally occurring neurotransmitter, plays an important role in the brain's reward system and acts on sensory receptors in the brain. Neurotransmitters are contained in lipid membraned vesicles and are released by exocytosis. All neurotransmitters interact with transport and receptor proteins in glial cells, on neuronal dendrites, and at the axonal button, and also must interact with membrane lipids. However, the extent of direct interaction between lipid membranes in the absence of receptors and transport proteins has not been extensively investigated. In this report, we use UV and NMR spectroscopy to determine the affinity and the orientation of dopamine interacting with lipid vesicles made of either phosphatidylcholine (PC) or phosphatidylserine (PS) lipids which are primary lipid components of synaptic vesicles. We quantify the interaction of dopamine's aromatic ring with lipid membranes using our newly developed method that involves reference spectra in hydrophobic environments. Our measurements show that dopamine interacts with lipid membranes primarily through the aromatic side opposite to the hydroxyl groups, with this aromatic side penetrating deeper into the hydrophobic region of the membrane. Since dopamine's activity involves its release into extracellular space, we have used our method to also investigate dopamine's release from lipid vesicles. We find that dopamine trapped inside PC and PS vesicles is released into the external solution despite its affinity to membranes. This result suggests that dopamine's interaction with lipid membranes is complex and involves both binding as well as permeation through lipid bilayers, a combination that could be an effective trigger for apoptosis of dopamine-generating cells.

Keywords: Dopamine; NMR spectroscopy; Phosphatidylcholine; Phosphatidylserine; UV spectroscopy.

MeSH terms

  • 2-Propanol
  • Dopamine / chemistry*
  • Hydrophobic and Hydrophilic Interactions
  • Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy
  • Membrane Lipids / chemistry*
  • Membranes, Artificial
  • Neurotransmitter Agents / chemistry*
  • Phosphatidylcholines / chemistry
  • Phosphatidylserines / chemistry
  • Solvents


  • Membrane Lipids
  • Membranes, Artificial
  • Neurotransmitter Agents
  • Phosphatidylcholines
  • Phosphatidylserines
  • Solvents
  • 2-Propanol
  • Dopamine