A pain-induced tonic hypodopaminergic state augments phasic dopamine release in the nucleus accumbens

Taylor A. Gee, Nathan C. Weintraub, Dong Lu, Caroline E. Phelps, Edita Navratilova, Michael L. Heien, Frank Porreca

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


Diseases and disorders such as Parkinson disease, schizophrenia, and chronic pain are characterized by altered mesolimbic dopaminergic neurotransmission. Dopamine release in the nucleus accumbens influences behavior through both tonic and phasic signaling. Tonic dopamine levels are hypothesized to inversely regulate phasic signals through dopamine D2 receptor feedback inhibition. We tested this hypothesis directly in the context of ongoing pain. Tonic and phasic dopamine signals were measured using fast-scan controlled-adsorption voltammetry and fast-scan cyclic voltammetry, respectively, in the nucleus accumbens shell of male rats with standardized levels of anesthesia. Application of capsaicin to the cornea produced a transient decrease in tonic dopamine levels. During the pain-induced hypodopaminergic state, electrically evoked phasic dopamine release was significantly increased when compared to baseline, evoked phasic release. A second application of capsaicin to the same eye had a lessened effect on tonic dopamine suggesting desensitization of TRPV1 channels in that eye. Capsaicin treatment in the alternate cornea, however, again produced coincident decreased dopaminergic tone and increased phasic dopamine release. These findings occurred independently of stimulus lateralization relative to the hemisphere of dopamine measurement. Our data show that (1) the mesolimbic dopamine circuit reliably encodes acute noxious stimuli; (2) ongoing pain produces decreases in dopaminergic tone; and (3) pain-induced decreases in tonic dopamine correspond to augmented evoked phasic dopamine release. Enhanced phasic dopamine neurotransmission resulting from salient stimuli may contribute to increased impulsivity and cognitive deficits often observed in conditions associated with decreased dopaminergic tone, including Parkinson disease and chronic pain.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2376-2384
Number of pages9
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 1 2020


  • Capsaicin
  • Dopamine
  • FSCV
  • Phasic
  • Tonic

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Neurology
  • Neurology
  • Anesthesiology and Pain Medicine


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