The role of dopamine in the behavioral effects of caffeine in animals and humans

Pharmacol Biochem Behav. 1997 Jul;57(3):533-41. doi: 10.1016/s0091-3057(96)00435-2.


Dopamine has been proposed to mediate some of the behavioral effects of caffeine. This review discusses cellular mechanisms of action that could explain the role of dopamine in the behavioral effects of caffeine and summarizes the results of behavioral studies in both animals and humans that provide evidence for a role of dopamine in these effects. Caffeine is a competitive antagonist at adenosine receptors and produces a range of central and physiological effects that are opposite those of adenosine. Recently, caffeine has been shown to enhance dopaminergic activity, presumably by competitive antagonism at adenosine receptors that are colocalized and interact functionally with dopamine receptors. Thus, caffeine, as a competitive antagonist at adenosine receptors, may produce its behavioral effects by removing the negative modulatory effects of adenosine from dopamine receptors, thus stimulating dopaminergic activity. Consistent with this interpretation, preclinical behavioral studies show that caffeine produces behavioral effects similar to classic dopaminergically mediated stimulants such as cocaine and amphetamine, including increased locomotor activity, increased turning behavior in 6-hydroxydopamine-lesioned animals, stimulant-like discriminative stimulus effects, and self-administration. Furthermore, caffeine potentiates the effects of dopamine-mediated drugs on these same behaviors, and some of caffeine's effects on these behaviors can be blocked by dopamine receptor antagonists. Although more limited in scope, human studies also show that caffeine produces subjective, discriminative stimulus and reinforcing effects that have some similarities to those produced by cocaine and amphetamine.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Caffeine / pharmacology*
  • Dopamine / pharmacology*
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Humans
  • Locomotion / drug effects*


  • Caffeine
  • Dopamine