The dopaminergic neurons of the substantia nigra pars compacta and ventral tegmental area play a crucial role in regulating movement and cognition respectively. Several lines of evidence suggest that a degeneration of dopaminergic cells in the substantia nigra produces the symptoms of Parkinson's disease. On the other hand, a hyperactivity of the dopaminergic transmission in the brain induces dyskinesia, dystonia and psychosis. It is also well established that the euphoric and rewarding responses evoked by drugs of addiction, such as amphetamine and cocaine, are mediated by central dopamine systems. Electrophysiological experiments which study the activity of single dopaminergic neurons in the ventral mesencephalon have shown that dopamine and dopaminergic drugs reduce the firing frequency of these cells. This is due to the stimulation of D2-D3 autoreceptors and to a hyperpolarization of the membrane produced by an increase in potassium conductance. In addition, substances which increse the release (amphetamine), the synthesis (levodopa) or block the uptake (cocaine, nomifensine, amineptine) of dopamine in the brain inhibit the firing activity of the dopaminergic cells throughout dopamine-mediated mechanisms. In this review, we will briefly examine the literature concerning the physiological and behavioural responses caused by dopamine and dopaminergic agents on the dopaminergic neurons of the ventral mesencephalon. Our conclusion suggests that the electrophysiological actions of dopamine and dopamine-related drugs on dopaminergic cells in the ventral mesencephalon might be indicative of the pharmacological effects of these agents on the brain.
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