Catecholamine regulation of the prefrontal cortex

J Psychopharmacol. 1997;11(2):151-62. doi: 10.1177/026988119701100208.


The catecholamines dopamine (DA) and norepinephrine provide an essential modulatory influence on the working memory and attentional functions of the prefrontal cortex (PFC). The following critique reviews evidence that (1) either insufficient or excessive DA D1 receptor stimulation is detrimental to PFC function, while DA stimulation of the D2 family of receptors may contribute to detrimental actions in PFC and (2) that norepinephrine has an important beneficial influence on PFC function through its actions at post-synaptic, alpha 2A adrenergic receptors, but impairs PFC function through actions at alpha 1 adrenergic receptors. Critical levels of catecholamine stimulation may be needed to optimize PFC cognitive function; high levels of catecholamine release during stress may serve to take the PFC 'off-line' to allow faster, more habitual responses mediated by the posterior and/or subcortical structures to regulate behavior. These studies have relevance to our understanding and treatment of disorders with prominent symptoms of PFC dysfunction.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Animals
  • Arousal / physiology
  • Attention / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping
  • Dopamine / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Neural Pathways / physiology
  • Norepinephrine / physiology*
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiopathology*
  • Receptors, Adrenergic, alpha-1 / physiology
  • Receptors, Adrenergic, alpha-2 / physiology
  • Receptors, Dopamine D1 / physiology
  • Receptors, Dopamine D2 / physiology


  • Receptors, Adrenergic, alpha-1
  • Receptors, Adrenergic, alpha-2
  • Receptors, Dopamine D1
  • Receptors, Dopamine D2
  • Dopamine
  • Norepinephrine