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J Neuroinflammation. 2012 Aug 18;9:203. doi: 10.1186/1742-2094-9-203.

Characterization and function of the human macrophage dopaminergic system: implications for CNS disease and drug abuse.

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  • 1Department of Pathology, Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Bronx, NY, USA.



Perivascular macrophages and microglia are critical to CNS function. Drugs of abuse increase extracellular dopamine in the CNS, exposing these cells to elevated levels of dopamine. In rodent macrophages and human T-cells, dopamine was shown to modulate cellular functions through activation of dopamine receptors and other dopaminergic proteins. The expression of these proteins and the effects of dopamine on human macrophage functions had not been studied.


To study dopaminergic gene expression, qRT-PCR was performed on mRNA from primary human monocyte derived macrophages (MDM). Expression and localization of dopaminergic proteins was examined by immunoblotting isolated plasma membrane, total membrane and cytosolic proteins from MDM. To characterize dopamine-mediated changes in cytokine production in basal and inflammatory conditions, macrophages were treated with different concentrations of dopamine in the presence or absence of LPS and cytokine production was assayed by ELISA. Statistical significance was determined using two-tailed Students' T-tests or Wilcoxen Signed Rank tests.


These data show that MDM express mRNA for all five subtypes of dopamine receptors, and that dopamine receptors 3 and 4 are expressed on the plasma membrane. MDM also express mRNA for the dopamine transporter (DAT), vesicular monoamine transporter 2 (VMAT2), tyrosine hydroxylase (TH) and aromatic amino acid decarboxylase (AADC). DAT is expressed on the plasma membrane, VMAT2 on cellular membranes and TH and AADC are in the cytosol. Dopamine also alters macrophage cytokine production in both untreated and LPS-treated cells. Untreated macrophages show dopamine mediated increases IL-6 and CCL2. Macrophages treated with LPS show increased IL-6, CCL2, CXCL8 and IL-10 and decreased TNF-α.


Monocyte derived macrophages express dopamine receptors and other dopaminergic proteins through which dopamine may modulate macrophage functions. Thus, increased CNS dopamine levels due to drug abuse may exacerbate the development of neurological diseases including Alzheimer's disease and HIV associated neurological disorders.

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