The dopamine system is a complex network in our brain that uses dopamine, a neuromodulator, to modulate or change the electrical activity of other cells, specifically neurons. Dopamine can either increase or decrease the activity of these neurons. This system has powerful effects on various functions in our body, including our ability to combat infection, inflammation, and pain. It does this by interacting with the brain stem and neurons that innervate areas of the body like the spleen, which deploy cells to combat these issues.
Dopamine also plays a crucial role in our sense of pleasure and motivation. It can transform our experience of pain into something pleasurable and make us more resilient. It's not a magic molecule, but it affects particular circuits and tells cells and circuits that conditions are good, which can allow us to lean into challenges.
There are five primary circuits within the brain that use dopamine as the primary neuromodulator, each engaging different but related functions. One of these is the nigrostriatal pathway, which involves the release of dopamine from the substantia nigra to the striatum.
In essence, the dopamine system is a key player in our brain's communication network, influencing our mood, motivation, pleasure, and even our body's response to pain and infection.