What Is the Difference Between Serotonin and Dopamine?

Medically Reviewed on 9/22/2022
what is the difference between serotonin and dopamine
Although both serotonin and dopamine help regulate mood and concentration, they each have distinct functions. Learn about the differences

Both serotonin and dopamine are often referred to as happy hormones and interact with each other to maintain balance within the body. These two neurotransmitters regulate mood and emotion, and deficiency of either can lead to several mental disorders. Despite these similarities, however, they each operate differently.

Serotonin and dopamine belong to the same group of neurotransmitters known as monoamines. Neurotransmitters transmit information between neurons and play a role in several bodily functions such as sleep, metabolism, memory, and emotional well-being. The imbalance of these neurotransmitters can lead to certain medical conditions.

Table: Serotonin vs. dopamine
Serotonin Dopamine
Inhibitory neurotransmitter Excitatory neurotransmitter
Produced from the amino acid tryptophan Produced from the amino acid tyrosine
Regulates mood Regulates motivation
Mood stabilizer rather than a booster Causes a happiness spike in response to a specific activity
Inhibits impulsive disorder Enhances impulsive disorder
Associated with feelings of happiness, focus, and calm Associated with motivation and productivity
Controls sleep, eating, and digestion Largely controls bodily movements and balance
Deficiency leads to pain sensitivity, anxiety, depression disorders, aggressiveness, and insomnia Deficiency leads to Parkinson’s disease, memory loss, low sex drive, poor digestion, and poor cognition
Effective in raphe nucleus and central section of the brain Effective in the hypothalamus, substantia nigra, and midbrain sections

What is serotonin and what are its effects on the body?

Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that is synthesized in the brain but found in the central nervous system, blood, and platelets. It is also found abundantly in the digestive tract. 

Serotonin is synthesized from the amino acid tryptophan that we acquire through diet and is found mostly in cheese, nuts, and red meat. Some functions of serotonin include:

  • Controls bowel movements and motility 
  • Stimulates the area of the brain that controls nausea as a mechanism to eliminate toxins from the stomach
  • Regulates mood and sleep and reduces anxiety, depression, and insomnia
  • Released by platelets and helps in wound healing by narrowing the blood vessels
  • Maintains bone health (abnormally high serotonin levels may cause osteoporosis and makes the bone weak)
  • Controls libido (libido is enhanced with low levels of serotonin and reduced with high levels of serotonin)

Low levels of serotonin are treated with selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, which are used as antidepressants. In some cases, these drugs can cause an abnormal increase in serotonin levels and lead to serotonin syndrome. Symptoms include:


Brain Food Pictures: What to Eat to Boost Focus See Slideshow

What is dopamine and what are its effects on the body?

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that is released when your brain is expecting a reward from achieving a goal. It is also involved in feelings of motivation, sleep, attention, and memory. Dopamine has a role in both neurological and physiological function, affecting your motor function, emotions, and even your decision-making. It has also been linked to psychological issues. 

Dopamine never acts alone; it acts along with other neurotransmitters such as serotonin. Some functions of dopamine include:

  • Memory and focus
  • Alertness
  • Motivation
  • Mood and emotions
  • Motor control
  • Blood flow
  • Digestion
  • Executive functioning
  • Heart and kidney function
  • Pain processing
  • Pancreatic function and insulin regulation
  • Pleasure and reward-seeking behavior
  • Sleep
  • Stress response
  • An increase in dopamine may produce euphoria

High levels of dopamine may lead to:

Low levels of dopamine may lead to:

Low levels of dopamine can lead to conditions such as:

  • Parkinson’s disease is a disorder of the central nervous system that affects movements and causes tremors, muscle stiffness, and trouble walking due to a lack of balance and coordination.
  • Dopamine transporter deficiency syndrome, also known as infantile parkinsonism-dystonia, causes movement abnormalities.
Medically Reviewed on 9/22/2022
Image Source: iStock Images

An Update on the Role of Serotonin and its Interplay with Dopamine for Reward: https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fnhum.2017.00484/full

Serotonin vs. Dopamine: What Are the Differences?: https://www.simplypsychology.org/serotonin-vs-dopamine.html

Difference between Serotonin and Dopamine: http://www.differencebetween.net/science/health/difference-between-serotonin-and-dopamine/