Dopamine: An important neurotransmitter (messenger) in the brain.
Dopamine is classified as a catecholamine (a class of molecules that serve as neurotransmitters and hormones). It is a monoamine (a compound containing nitrogen formed from ammonia by replacement of one or more of the hydrogen atoms by hydrocarbon radicals). Dopamine is a precursor (forerunner) of adrenaline and a closely related molecule, noradrenaline. Dopamine is formed by the decarboxylation (removal of a carboxyl group) from dopa.
Dopa is used in the treatment of Parkinson disease. Parkinson disease is believed to be related to low levels of dopamine in certain parts of the brain. When dopa is taken by mouth, it crosses through the blood-brain barrier. Once it has crossed from the bloodstream into the brain, it is converted to dopamine. The resulting increase in dopamine concentrations in the brain is thought to improve nerve conduction and to assist in lessening the movement disorders in Parkinson disease.
In 1970 the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) approved dopa in the form of L-Dopa, or levodopa, for use in the US. The drug revolutionized the treatment of Parkinson disease.