The Role of Doapmine in Our Survival

Posted on November 14, 2018

Neuroscientists from MIT have found the underlying mechanisms for the steering of attention away from trivial tasks towards potential threats, and they believe that dopamine is central to this process. Danger signals are received and interpreted in the brain’s prefrontal cortex (PFC) which is where dopamine enacts its action by directing the brain’s attention to focus on devising a response to the perceived threat.

The PFC has been associated with complex cognitive functions in previous studies, responsible for attention, prioritizing, decision-making, as well as coordinating and directing of information to different regions of the brain. Dopamine facilitates this action by having the PFC focus on transmitting information related to behavioural responses to other brain areas to mitigate the perceived threat.

When messages of a incoming potential threat is presented, dopamine is sent to the PFC. The current study aimed to investigate how dopamine exacts its action on two groups of neurons in the PFC, hence they designed an experimental study to condition rats to respond to two visual cues – one associated with reward (sugar water), and the other associated with punishment (mild electric shock) – and observed what happened when both cues were presented together.

The results of the study found that when dopamine was stimulated together with the cues, the rats were more likely to freeze (a typical response to threats) than to head for the reward. But, if dopamine was paired with just one of the cues, the rats’ behavior was not affected, i.e. they reacted as per usual. This suggests that dopamine acts by augmenting the escape response when animals are unable to decide on an appropriate response due to contradictory information presented. In addition, the activation of neurons associated with reward falls significantly which translates to lower attention to the reward cue. This is most likely because prioritizing negative information, especially information that signal a possible danger, is an evolved adaptation.

The findings suggest that this particular brain circuit has evolved to aid in survival, particularly, the release of dopamine acts to augment attention and caution to environmental stimuli. This finding could also be extended to speculate on the potential implications for the development of paranoia symptoms in schizophrenia, anxiety and phobic disorders if the circuit is dysregulated due to excessive dopamine in the system.

Category(s):Executive Functions, Other, Paranoia / Suspiciousness

Source material from Medical Xpress