Ahmed A Moustafa Ph.D.

A Computational Approach

What Does Dopamine Really Do?

Its impact on the brain and body.

Posted Nov 15, 2018

Commentary on Chakravarthy, S., J., Balasubramani, P., Mandali, A., Jahanshahi, M., Moustafa, A. A. (2018). The many facets of Dopamine: Toward an integrative theory of the role of Dopamine in managing the body's energy resources. Physiology & Behavior


  • Most people of dopamine as the pleasure “chemical” but dopamine is a reward signal, regulates appetite, and manage circulation and energy. Dopamine affects both the body and brain.
  • The authors propose a theoretical framework- that dopamine’s role in neural and physiological domains can be linked through its reward signal function as a part of an extensive energy management system of the body.

The authors propose a novel perspective about the role of dopamine in the brain and the body in appetite and blood flow regulation. In the brain, dopamine’s role is well studied to be linked to reward processes, and the experience of pleasure. In the appetite system, the authors argue that dopamine controls some sort of balance between the pleasure associated with food and the cost needed in terms of effort, altogether relating dopamine’s function in processing the appetitive value of food. Since the seminal recordings from dopaminregic neurons by Schultz et al (1997), dopamine has been linked to reward process and its role in the estimation of value in reinforcement learning literature. Similarly, the authors propose that cardiovascular responses are also subjected to reward related control.

Precisely, dopamine seems to be taking on a key function of controlling the reward processes, to manifest many of its facets- in the brain, appetite system and circulatory system. The authors substantiate this idea by invoking the principles of reinforcement learning to relate the underlying physiology of dopamine with rewards and cost of effort, and reflect its facets in a theoretical manner. Furthermore, the authors hypothesize a key role of dopamine in body’s energy management, to reconcile its widespread actions in the brain and beyond in various physiological systems.