May 22, 2022 – A team of researchers headed by Claus Juul Loland has just published a study in the esteemed journal Nature Communications. The study sheds new light on the mechanism transporting dopamine to the nerve cells.

“The mechanism we have been researching is the so-called dopamine transporter (DAT). DAT controls dopamine signalling in the brain by removing the released dopamine and thus turning off the signal. DAT can be described as a molecular vacuum cleaner. Dopamine is key to our ability to control the communication between nerves in the part of the brain known as the reward centre. For example, it is dopamine that makes us feel happy when we do something we enjoy.”

“This new insight into how DAT works may enable us to design better drugs for e.g. ADHD and schizophrenia, which are conditions related to the level of dopamine in the brain.” Previously, DAT’s removal of dopamine was believed to depend on sodium. Sodium is a mineral, which makes up around 40 percent of regular table salt. In the body, however, sodium is responsible for the conductivity of the nerves, and proteins use the energy in sodium to transport e.g. dopamine. But as demonstrated by Claus Juul Loland and his research team as the first in the world, there is more to it than that.

“We are able to show that DAT probably also depends on the energy found in the mineral potassium. 40 years ago we learned that this was the case of the ‘sister protein’, the serotonin transporter (SERT). Since then, we have believed this to be unique to SERT – as the black sheep of the family as regards the ‘vacuum mechanism’. Now our research demonstrates that dependence on potassium is in fact more likely to be the rule than the exception in this family of proteins. And that means the textbooks have to be rewritten,” says Claus Juul Loland.