Page by Stephanie Watkins
Dopamine, arguably the most studied of all neurotransmitters, plays a role in motivation, higher thinking, and many “hypodopaminergic” clinical disorders (ADHD, autism, bipolar disorder, OCD, and schizophrenia to name a few). While dopamine has not been linked to emotional behavior, it is often connected to motor behaviors, executive intelligence, and distal space (rather than proximal). Most notably associated with brainstem abnormalities in the prenatal period, specifically the first and second trimesters of pregnancy, hypodopaminergic disorders are characterized by a heightened motor activity resulting in a basic stereotypy (for example, rocking or spinning in children with autism). Social deficits are also linked to dopamine deficiencies, one of the most tell-tale symptoms of autism. Direct manipulations of the mother’s dopamine activity can be achieved through ingestion of cocaine or amphetamine, influencing the fetus’ exposure to dopamine. Indirect prenatal influences on dopamine are maternal nutritional deficiency, hyperthermia (fevers), and stress (elevates dopamine activity) (Previc, 2007).
Previc, F. H. (2007). Prenatal influences on brain dopamine and their relevance to the rising incidence of autism. Medical Hypotheses, 68, 46-60.