Candidate Review:

Dopaminergic Signaling in Development: Regulated for Mediating Biological Functions

Aliya L. Frederick* and Gregg D. Stanwood§

*Neuroscience Graduate Program, Vanderbilt University Medical School, U1205 Medical Center North, Nashville, TN 37232, USA.
§Department of Pharmacology, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN 37232, USA.
Correspondence to L.F. e-mail:

Abstract | Full Text | PDF

ABSTRACT | Biogenic amine neurotransmitters are implicated in a wide range of behavioral, cognitive, and homeostatic functions in the mature central nervous system (CNS). Biogenic amines include the catecholamines, dopamine, norepinephrine and epinephrine, as well as acetylcholine and serotonin. Each of these transmitter systems has a unique spatial and temporal pattern of onset during CNS development that has been characterized primarily in rodent models. It is important to note that these neuromodulatory systems appear early during embryogenesis, much earlier than the onset of synaptogenesis, suggesting that they also play important roles in brain development and formation of complex neural circuitry. It is therefore not surprising that alterations to these systems, either by pharmacological agents that affect synthesis or binding in the mature system, or developmentally due to toxic insults or genetic modifications, will have important consequences on brain function. In this review, I will focus on the developmental role of dopaminergic signaling although there are obviously important developmental milestones modulated through other transmitter systems. Regulation of dopaminergic signaling during development is important because current evidence suggests that dopamine (DA) exerts influence during specific sensitive periods in embryogenesis to mediate developmental processes including neuronal process extension. Also, dysregulation of dopaminergic neurotransmission in the striatum and cortex appears to contribute to many neurological and psychiatric disorders, including schizophrenia, Parkinson’s disease, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, and drug addiction1-7. Developmental abnormalities in circuit formation and connectivity may contribute to these disorders even though clinical phenotypes usually become apparent only later in life.