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The dopamine connection

How your gut influences your mood and behaviour

Introduction to dopamine

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter derived from an amino acid called phenylalanine, which must be obtained through the diet, through foods such as fish, meat, dairy and more.

Dopamine is produced and released by dopaminergic neurons in the central nervous system and can be found in different brain regions. The neurotransmitter acts via two mechanisms: wiring transmission and volume transmission. In wiring transmission, dopamine is released to the synaptic cleft and acts on postsynaptic dopamine receptors. 

In volume transmission, extracellular dopamine arrives at neurons other than postsynaptic ones. Through methods such as diffusion, dopamine then reaches receptors in other neurons that are not in direct contact with the cell that has released the neurotransmitter. In both mechanisms, dopamine binds to the receptors, transmitting signals between neurons and affecting mood and behaviour.

The link between dopamine and gut health

Dopamine has been known to result in positive emotions, including pleasure, satisfaction and motivation, which can be influenced by gut health. Therefore, what you eat and other factors, including motivation, could impact your mood and behaviour. 

This was proven by a study (Hamamah et al., 2022), which looked at the bidirectional gut-brain connection. The study found that gut microbiota was important in maintaining the concentrations of dopamine via the gut-brain connection, also known as the gut microbiota-brain axis or vagal gut-to-brain axis. 

This is the communication pathway between the gut microbiota and the brain facilitated by the vagus nerve, and it is important in the neuronal reward pathway, which regulates motivational and emotional states.

Activating the vagal gut-to-brain axis, which leads to dopamine release, suggests that modulating dopamine levels could be a potential treatment approach for dopamine-related disorders.

Some examples of gut microbiota include Prevotella, Bacteroides, Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium, Clostridium, Enterococcus, and Ruminococcus, and they can affect dopamine by modulating dopaminergic activity. These gut microbiota are able to produce neurotransmitters, including dopamine, and their functions and bioavailability in the central nervous system and periphery are influenced by the gut-brain axis.

Gut dysbiosis is the disturbance of the healthy intestinal flora, and it can lead to dopamine-related disorders, including Parkinson's disease, ADHD, depression, anxiety, and autism. Gut microbes that produce butyrate, a short-chain fatty acid, positively impact dopamine and contribute to reducing symptoms and effects seen in neurodegenerative disorders.

Dopamine as a treatment

It is important to understand the link between dopamine and gut health, as this could provide information about new therapeutic targets and improve current methods that have been used to prevent and restore deficiencies in dopamine function in different disorders.

Most cells in the immune system contain dopamine receptors, allowing processes such as antigen presentation, T-cell activation, and inflammation to be regulated. Further research into this could open up a new possibility for dopamine to be used as a medication to treat diseases by changing the activity of dopamine receptors. Therefore, dopamine is important in various physiological processes, both in the central nervous and immune systems.

For example, studies have shown that schizophrenia can be treated with antipsychotic medications which target dopamine neurotransmission. In addition, schizophrenia has also been treated by targeting the dysregulation (decreasing the amount) of dopamine transmission.

Studies have shown promising results regarding dopamine being used as a form of treatment. Nevertheless, further research is needed to understand the interactions between dopamine, motivation and gut health and explore how this knowledge can be used to create medications to treat conditions.


The bidirectional gut-brain connection shows the importance of gut microbiota in controlling dopamine levels. This connection influences mood and behaviour but also has the potential to lead to new and innovative dopamine-targeted treatments being developed (for conditions including dopamine-related disorders). For example, scientists could target and manipulate dopamine receptors in the immune system to regulate the above mentioned processes: antigen presentation, T-cell activation, and inflammation.

While current research has shown some promising results, further investigations are needed to better comprehend the connection between gut health and dopamine levels. Nevertheless, through consistent studies, scientists can gain a deeper understanding of this mechanism to see how changes in gut microbiota could affect dopamine regulation and influence mood and behaviour.

Written by Naoshin Haque

Related articles: the gut microbiome / Crohn's disease

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