Dopamine's yin and yang personality: It's an upper and a downer

on 12 December 2018
when it comes to the brain, it's in your hands

Life can be best described as occurring in those moments when we are aware, aware of what is happening and how it feels. Sadly for many, life is their awareness of what happened; after it happened. The lights were on but nobody was home. How much of each day are you aware of . . . 

Understanding the duality of life and living!

An interesting piece of research, where, through fibre photometry, scientists have focused on two subtypes of dopamine cells, one seeking rewards, the other avoiding pain or punishment (aversion). In some sense, both of these actions, going for the reward or away from the pain/punishment are not new and although they seem opposites, they are in fact two sides of the same coin. In the going towards and getting pleasure, it's easy to see that as a reward but when we move away from punishment or pain, the reward is not in what you get, it's in what you don't get. In that context, a reward may be better demonstrated by the word relief? Broadly speaking five types of dopamine receptors have been identified; D1 to D5. D1 and D5 are similar and are called D1-like and D2, 3, 4, D2-like. Essentially they work through excitation and inhibition and this somewhat describes the effect mentioned above, excitation equalling a reward and inhibition equalling the pleasure/relief of no pain or punishment. Whether the two subtypes, identified in this research, related to D1 and D2 like, is not made clear although D1 like work by excitation, through the opening of sodium channels or inhibition by opening potassium channels. D2 like mostly involve inhibition, referred to as aversion in this research. What is most relative to us though; is how each of these actions makes us feel because life is a feeling experience!

When looking at addictions, some people have a greater predisposition towards addiction than others and the brain chemistry or gene pool of those individuals needs to be better understood. However, when it comes to the addicted brain, this is a brain that is malfunctioning. Drugs that stimulate dopamine eventually impair its natural production, essentially disrupting the normal synthesis of dopamine production in the brain. This is why a good and well-balanced diet is so important, nature and the brain work together to provide everything the brain needs to function well. While the brain is the pharmacy, we are most definitely not the chemist. There are many good guidelines on how to divide our plate e.g. proteins, carbohydrates, sugars and fats. Get them in the right order and the brain does the rest. To what extent the absence of good nutrition leads to the mental states that lead to the appeal of drugs is intriguing and somewhat unknown. But the early years of nutrition and brain development may play a role in the prevalence and abundance of certain types of neurons in certain brain regions. Some regions with a richer and more diffuse structure can completely alter our personality and/or behaviour; in a positive or negative way. Fortunately, it is not a closed book because, through neurogenesis and neuroplasticity, the adult human brain can change progressively for the good.

However, when considering the "why" of getting hooked on drugs (including alcohol), I think our psychology plays quite a large role and our psychology is very much steeped in our life experience. I guess addicts come about, loosely speaking, by a mixture of poor life experience and to some extent a questionable gene pool. essentially not the right experience to fit their gene pool. For the most part, life, as we know it, comes about as a reaction to how we experience our environment. That is why two children born to the same parents are so different. They are not genetically identical (with the exception of monozygotic twins) and the way they experience life is different too. Parents change, in both outlook and experience, to the way they react to each child’s uniqueness, thus compounding the child’s experience. Some children are easy to manage and some are not. To the child who is not so easy to manage, they can view their parents as loving their other sibling more; "they treat her nicer than they do me etc. How we experience and develop over those first few years of life, very often sets up the roadmap of our life but hypnosis can change that.

How hypnotherapy can change the way life happens is both unique and individual, there is no one method or style that fits all. However, experientially, I have found that Trans4mational Therapy, fits more types of people than it doesn't and for those that it doesn't fit; there are other tools in the toolbox. There are so many ways to work with people because some may have conditions that need to be stabilised or managed with medication, e.g. clinical depression, schizophrenia OCD, bipolar etc. In people with schizophrenia, which is usually a lifelong condition (from diagnosis), their medication manages their condition and hypnosis helps them manage their life. The same applies across the board. So, hypnosis-therapy (hypnotherapy) can help you manage your life, whether you are on medication or not. Generally speaking though, life is better with and through hypnosis; either way!

Hypnotherapy stands out as one of the most effective strategic life management methods there is, especially in its ability to promote clear thinking and good states of mental wellness. The behaviours that make life challenging are often a result of too much stress, too little sleep and too little by way of clarity! So, to take back control of your mind and your life, it makes perfect sense to use a methodology that addresses the subconscious mind's role in perpetuating negative, vague and ambiguous states of mind. Hypnosis helps us to create calm relaxing states of mind that make life work better! If you would like to address any concerns you have in this direction, or, if you just want to make your life feel better,  then why not make an appointment for a Free Consultation? Hypnosis gives you the ability to have a good life! 

The objective here is to help people understand how and why we become illogically trapped into irrational emotional experiences that may actually be happening for reasons different to that which we would imagine! If you want to know more about how Hypnotherapy can help you; why not make an appointment for a Free Consultation?

For more information on the Free Consultation - Go Here Or, to book your Free Consultation today, you can do so here

The Research: 

For decades, psychologists have viewed the neurotransmitter dopamine as a double-edged sword: released in the brain as a reward to train us to seek out pleasurable experiences, but also a "drug" the constant pursuit of which leads to addiction.

According to a new study from the University of California, Berkeley, that's only one face of dopamine. The flip side is that dopamine is also released in response to unpleasurable experiences, such as touching a hot tea kettle, presumably training the brain to avoid them in the future.

The yin-yang nature of dopamine could have implications for the treatment of addiction and other mental disorders. In illnesses such as schizophrenia, for example, dopamine levels in different areas of the brain become abnormal, possibly because of an imbalance between the reward and avoidance circuits in the brain. Addiction, too, may result from an imbalance in reactions to pleasure and pain.

"In an addiction, people only look for the next reward, and they will take a lot of risks to get the next shot of drugs of abuse," said Stephan Lammel, a UC Berkeley assistant professor of molecular and cell biology and the senior author of a paper describing the results in the journal Neuron. "We currently do not know the neurobiological underpinnings of certain high-risk behaviours of individuals with addiction, such as sharing drug paraphernalia despite the proven risk of mortality and morbidity associated with it. An understanding of how drugs change neural circuits involved in aversion may have important implications for the persistent nature of drug-seeking behaviour in the face of negative consequences."

Although some neuroscientists have long speculated about dopamine's potential role in the signalling of aversive events, its dual personality remained hidden until recently because the neurons in the brain that release dopamine in response to rewards is embedded in a different subcircuit than the neurons that release dopamine in response to aversive stimuli.

Johannes de Jong, the first author of the study, was able to simultaneously record from both dopamine subcircuits by implanting fibre optic cannulas in two brain regions -- separated by just a few millimetres -- using a new technology called fibre photometry.

"Our work delineates for the first time the precise brain circuitry in which learning about rewarding and aversive outcomes occurs," Lammel said. "Having separate neuronal correlates for appetitive and aversive behaviour in our brain may explain why we are striving for ever-greater rewards while simultaneously minimizing threats and dangers. Such balanced behaviour of approach-and-avoidance learning is surely helpful for surviving competition in a constantly changing environment."

The newly discovered role for dopamine aligns with an increasing recognition that the neurotransmitter has quite different roles in different areas of the brain, exemplified by its function involuntary movement, which is affected in Parkinson's disease. The results also explain earlier conflicting experiments, some of which showed that dopamine increases in response to aversive stimuli, while others did not.

"We have moved away from considering dopamine neurons as just a homogeneous cell population in the brain that mediates reward and pleasure to a more defined, nuanced picture of the role of dopamine, depending on where it is released in the brain," Lammel said.

Reward prediction errors

Most of what is known about dopamine has been inferred from studies in rodents and monkeys, where researchers recorded from cells in a specific region of the brain that only contains reward-responsive dopamine neurons. It is possible, Lammel said, that through sampling biases, dopamine neurons that respond to aversive stimulation had been missed.

According to the reigning "reward prediction error hypothesis," dopamine neurons are activated and produce dopamine when an action is more rewarding than we expect, but they remain at baseline activity when the reward matches our expectations and show depressed activity when we receive less reward than predicted.

Dopamine changes neural circuits and trains the brain -- for better or worse -- to pursue the pleasurable and avoid the unpleasurable.

"Based on the reward prediction error hypothesis, the established tendency has been to emphasize dopamine involvement in reward, pleasure, addiction and reward-related learning, with less consideration of the involvement of dopamine in aversive processes," Lammel said.

To dissect the different dopamine subcircuits, de Jong and Lammel collaborated with the laboratory of Karl Deisseroth at Stanford University, who developed fibre photometry technology a few years ago.

Fibre photometry involves threading thin, flexible fibre optic wires into the brain and recording fluorescent signals given off by neurons and their axons that release dopamine. The fluorescent markers are inserted into the neurons via a virus that targets only these cells.

In previous experiments in monkeys, Lammel said, scientists had recorded from dopamine cells without knowing where in the brain the cells' axons reached, which could be areas millimetres from the cell body. Working with mice, de Jong recorded simultaneously from dopamine axons in the lateral and medial regions of an area called the nucleus accumbens, considered an integral part of the brain's reward circuits. He thus captured the activity of cells whose axons reach into these regions from the dopamine areas in the midbrain, specifically the ventral tegmental area.

To their surprise, axons in the medial area released dopamine in response to an aversive stimulus -- a mild electrical shock to the foot -- while those in the lateral area released dopamine only after positive stimuli.

"We have two different subtypes of dopamine cells: one population mediates attraction and one mediates aversion, and they are anatomically separated," Lammel said.

He hopes that these findings can be confirmed in monkeys and humans, and lead to new approaches to understanding and treating addiction and other brain maladies.

Story Source:

Materials provided by the University of California - BerkeleyNote: Content may be edited for style and length.

Journal Reference:

  1. Johannes W. de Jong, Seyedeh Atiyeh Afjei, Iskra Pollak Dorocic, James R. Peck, Christine Liu, Christina K. Kim, Lin Tian, Karl Deisseroth, Stephan Lammel. A Neural Circuit Mechanism for Encoding Aversive Stimuli in the Mesolimbic Dopamine SystemNeuron, 2018; DOI: 10.1016/j.neuron.2018.11.005

Cite This Page:

University of California - Berkeley. "Dopamine's yin-yang personality: It's an upper and a downer: Known as a reward that makes us seek pleasure, dopamine also reinforces avoidance of pain." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 10 December 2018. <>.