Dopamine and the brainstem locomotor networks: From lamprey to human

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© 2017 Ryczko and Dubuc. In vertebrates, dopamine neurons are classically known to modulate locomotion via their ascending projections to the basal ganglia that project to brainstem locomotor networks. An increased dopaminergic tone is associated with increase in locomotor activity. In pathological conditions where dopamine cells are lost, such as in Parkinson's disease, locomotor deficits are traditionally associated with the reduced ascending dopaminergic input to the basal ganglia. However, a descending dopaminergic pathway originating from the substantia nigra pars compacta was recently discovered. It innervates the mesencephalic locomotor region (MLR) from basal vertebrates to mammals. This pathway was shown to increase locomotor output in lampreys, and could very well play an important role in mammals. Here, we provide a detailed account on the newly found dopaminergic pathway in lamprey, salamander, rat, monkey, and human. In lampreys and salamanders, dopamine release in the MLR is associated with the activation of reticulospinal neurons that carry the locomotor command to the spinal cord. Dopamine release in the MLR potentiates locomotor movements through a D1-receptor mechanism in lampreys. In rats, stimulation of the substantia nigra pars compacta elicited dopamine release in the pedunculopontine nucleus, a known part of the MLR. In a monkey model of Parkinson's disease, a reduced dopaminergic innervation of the brainstem locomotor networks was reported. Dopaminergic fibers are also present in human pedunculopontine nucleus. We discuss the conserved locomotor role of this pathway from lamprey to mammals, and the hypothesis that this pathway could play a role in the locomotor deficits reported in Parkinson's disease.




Ryczko, D., & Dubuc, R. (2017, May 26). Dopamine and the brainstem locomotor networks: From lamprey to human. Frontiers in Neuroscience. Frontiers Research Foundation.

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