Dopamine (DA) and noradrenaline (NA) in the prefrontal cortex (PFC) modulate superior cognitive functions, and are involved in the aetiology of depressive and psychotic symptoms. Moreover, microdialysis studies in rats have shown how pharmacological treatments that induce modifications of extracellular NA in the medial PFC (mPFC), also produce parallel changes in extracellular DA. To explain the coupling of NA and DA changes, this article reviews the evidence supporting the hypothesis that extracellular DA in the cerebral cortex originates not only from dopaminergic terminals but also from noradrenergic ones, where it acts both as precursor for NA and as a co-transmitter. Accordingly, extracellular DA concentration in the occipital, parietal and cerebellar cortex was found to be much higher than expected in view of the scarce dopaminergic innervation in these areas. Systemic administration or intra-cortical perfusion of α2-adrenoceptor agonists and antagonists, consistent with their action on noradrenergic neuronal activity, produced concomitant changes not only in extracellular NA but also in DA in the mPFC, occipital and parietal cortex. Chemical modulation of the locus coeruleus by locally applied carbachol, kainate, NMDA or clonidine modified both NA and DA in the mPFC. Electrical stimulation of the locus coeruleus led to an increased efflux of both NA and DA in mPFC, parietal and occipital cortex, while in the striatum, NA efflux alone was enhanced. Atypical antipsychotics, such as clozapine and olanzapine, or antidepressants, including mirtazapine and mianserine, have been found to increase both NA and DA throughout the cerebral cortex, likely through blockade of α2-adrenoceptors. On the other hand, drugs selectively acting on dopaminergic transmission produced modest changes in extracellular DA in mPFC, and had no effect on the occipital or parietal cortex. Acute administration of morphine did not increase DA levels in the PFC (where NA is diminished), in contrast with augmented dopaminergic neuronal activity; moreover, during morphine withdrawal both DA and NA levels increased, in spite of a diminished dopaminergic activity, both increases being antagonised by clonidine but not quinpirole administration. Extensive 6-hydroxy dopamine lesion of the ventral tegmental area (VTA) decreases below 95% of control both intra- and extracellular DA and DOPAC in the nucleus accumbens, but only partially or not significantly in the mPFC and parietal cortex. The above evidence points to a common origin for NA and DA in the cerebral cortex and suggests the possible utility of noradrenergic system modulation as a target for drugs with potential clinical efficacy on cognitive functions.
Keywords: noradrenaline (NA), cerebral cortex, dopaminergic innervation, NORADRENERGIC DRUGS, Antipsychotic, Morphine