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The Neurobiology of Drug Addiction

8: Dopamine neurotransmission and modulation by endogenous opiates

Dopamine neurotransmission and modulation

Using the close-up of a synapse, continue using dopamine for your example of synaptic function. Explain that it is synthesized in the nerve terminal and packaged in vesicles. Reiterate the steps in neurotransmission. Show how the vesicle fuses with the membrane and releases dopamine. The dopamine molecules can then bind to a dopamine receptor (in pink). After the dopamine binds, it comes off the receptor and is removed from the synaptic cleft by uptake pumps (also proteins) that reside on the terminal (arrows show the direction of movement). This process is important because it ensures that not too much dopamine remains in the synaptic cleft at any one time. Also point out that there are neighboring neurons that release another compound called a neuromodulator. Neuromodulators help to enhance or inhibit neurotransmission that is controlled by neurotransmitters such as dopamine. In this case, the neuromodulator is an "endorphin" (in red). Endorphins bind to opiate receptors (in yellow) which can reside on the post-synaptic cell (shown here) or, in some cases, on the terminals of other neurons (this is not shown so it must be pointed out). The endorphins are destroyed by enzymes rather than removed by uptake pumps

This page was last updated November 2019

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NIDA. (2019, November 19). The Neurobiology of Drug Addiction. Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/neurobiology-drug-addiction

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