What is the difference between dopamine vs serotonin? Both serotonin and dopamine are chemicals in the brain known as neurotransmitters and together they help to transport nerve signals and information between neurons. Dopamine and serotonin control a number of different functions in the brain, including mood and motivation, but each has a distinctly different role to play and both chemicals have been implicated in different mental health disorders.
Dopamine and Serotonin
Scientists have been able to identify a large number of neurotransmitters in the brain, but dopamine and serotonin are the two of the sixteen most important ones. As already stated, although serotonin and dopamine are both neurotransmitters, they each play a different role in the brain.
Serotonin is synthesized from tryptophan, an amino acid found in various foods, from dairy produce such as milk and cheese, to meat and whole grains. The chemical name for serotonin is 5-hydroxytryptamine, usually shortened to 5-HT. Serotonin controls several functions, including our emotions and mood, appetite, and various sensory perceptions, including pain. It controls how impulsive we are, our sleep patterns, social behaviors, blood pressure, body temperature, and hormonal activities, in particular the female menstrual cycle.
Dopamine is known is best known for the fact it is part of our pleasure response—when we experience something nice, like sex, our brain is flooded with dopamine and we feel great (or at least that is what is supposed to happen!). Dopamine controls mood, motivation, and movement, which is why those suffering from depression or Parkinson’s disease often have low levels of dopamine in their body.
Differences Between Serotonin vs dopamine
Although serotonin and dopamine both work in the brain, they act in different parts of the brain. Serotonin fires out nerve signals in the “raphe nucleus” section of the brain, plus the central section of the brain stem. It also works in an area called the “pons”, which is the section where the brain stem joins with the cerebellum. Dopamine is most active in the hypothalamus, midbrain, and substantia nigra sections of the brain.
The production of serotonin and dopamine is carried out in a similar way, but from a different starting point. Serotonin is synthesised from the amino acid tryptophan via a process known as hydroxylation. Serotonin production is then continued with another process called decarboxylation. Dopamine is produced in the same manner, but the starting ingredient is a different amino acid called tyrosine. Once both chemicals have fulfilled their roles, they are converted into an inactive form by the monoamine oxidase enzyme.
What role do dopamine and serotonin play in diseases?
Abnormal levels of serotonin and dopamine have been linked to various diseases, both physical and mental, and levels that are either too low or too high can play havoc with various systems in the body.
As we have already mentioned, Parkinson’s disease is linked to abnormally low levels of dopamine and one of the most effective treatments involves administering a drug that mimics the natural action of dopamine. Schizophrenia is linked to an imbalance dopamine and serotonin, but drugs that help to stimulate dopamine receptors can alleviate the symptoms of the illness. A low level of serotonin is known to be a contributing factor in depression and several closely related anxiety disorders.