Behavioral modulation by spontaneous activity of dopamine neurons

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22 Citations (Scopus)


Dopamine modulates a variety of animal behaviors that range from sleep and learning to courtship and aggression. Besides its well-known phasic firing to natural reward, a substantial number of dopamine neurons (DANs) are known to exhibit ongoing intrinsic activity in the absence of an external stimulus. While accumulating evidence points at functional implications for these intrinsic “spontaneous activities” of DANs in cognitive processes, a causal link to behavior and its underlying mechanisms has yet to be elucidated. Recent physiological studies in the model organism Drosophila melanogaster have uncovered that DANs in the fly brain are also spontaneously active, and that this activity reflects the behavioral/internal states of the animal. Strikingly, genetic manipulation of basal DAN activity resulted in behavioral alterations in the fly, providing critical evidence that links spontaneous DAN activity to behavioral states. Furthermore, circuit-level analyses have started to reveal cellular and molecular mechanisms that mediate or regulate spontaneous DAN activity. Through reviewing recent findings in different animals with the major focus on flies, we will discuss potential roles of this physiological phenomenon in directing animal behaviors.

Original languageEnglish
Article number88
JournalFrontiers in Systems Neuroscience
Publication statusPublished - 2017 Dec


  • Dopamine
  • Drosophila
  • Feeding
  • Learning and memory
  • Sex drive
  • Sleep
  • Spontaneous activity


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