MedUni Vienna: Dopamine - far more than just the "happy hormone"

Dopamine is a so-called messenger substance or neurotransmitter that conveys signals between neurons. It not only controls mental and emotional responses but also motor reactions. Dopamine is particularly known as being the "happy hormone". It is responsible for our experiencing happiness. Even so-called adrenaline rushes, such as those experienced when playing sport, are based on the same pattern. Adrenaline is a close relative of dopamine. However, serious health problems can arise if too little or too much dopamine is being produced. If too few dopamine molecules are released, Parkinson's disease can develop, while an excess can lead to mania, hallucinations and schizophrenia.

"Dopamine release is also responsible for people becoming addicted, in that they are always seeking pleasure, so that they can reach higher and higher dopamine levels," explains Harald Sitte of MedUni Vienna's Institute of Pharmacology, speaking on the occasion of the Dopamine 2016 conference, which is taking place next week on the Vienna University campus and at MedUni Vienna’s Center for Brain Research. “Dopamine is the reason why a lot of people are constantly seeking to satisfy their cravings."

According to Matthäus Willeit of MedUni Vienna’s Department of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy, who is organising the Dopamine conference together with Harald Sitte, "excessive dopamine release at the wrong moment can cause insignificant things to take on an unwarranted significance. This can even result in mania, hallucinations or even schizophrenia." It is not yet clear how this excessive release occurs and specific research is being conducted at MedUni Vienna to find out.

However, Oleh Hornykiewicz of the Center for Brain Research at MedUni Vienna has managed to explain one cause of Parkinson's disease: The working group led by the multiple award-winning scientist found a lack of dopamine in certain areas of the brain and identified it as the trigger for the disease. Sitte explains that Hornykiewicz was also able to show that one cannot simply "top up" dopamine, whereupon he developed a sort of "precursor top-up”, Levodopa (L-Dopa), a precursor of dopamine. This serves to increase the dopamine concentration in the cerebral basal cells.

Dopamine 2016 in Vienna
The aim of the Dopamine 2016 conference is to promote the translational aspect of dopamine research and to bring together researchers from foundational research and clinical research. In addition, the plenary speakers will cover a broad spectrum of groundbreaking foundational research, ranging from the use of optogenetics to clinically oriented research in the field of psychiatric diseases.

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