Sanesco Blog

Dopamine’s Role in Attention


Dopamine influences the ability to pay attention, which is more than just focus. Difficulty paying attention may encompass[1]:

·      Problems focusing on a specific task
·      Trouble sitting still for long periods of time
·      Being disorganized
·      Inability to follow instructions
·      Impulsivity

The Role of Dopamine and the Prefrontal Cortex in Attention

The part of the brain that regulates such activity is called the prefrontal cortex (PFC). The PFC requires sufficient amounts of dopamine to function correctly, especially in focus, maintenance, and learning. The pathway in which dopamine is transported from a part of the midbrain known as the SN/VTA to the PFC, is called the mesocortical system.

The hypodopaminergic theory states that hyperactive behaviors and lack of attention may be the result of low dopamine levels. Dopamine and glutamate maintain a feedback loop involving the PFC. When low dopamine levels are present, dopamine is no longer able to increase the function of glutamate receptors (NMDA and AMPA) in the PFC and striatum, leading to lower glutamate levels. In a healthy cycle, glutamate signals are sent to the striatum and the SN/VTA, as well as to the PFC. Normally, when glutamate signals to the SN/VTA are increased, more dopamine is released, restarting this cycle. This feedback mechanism does not appear to occur in some cases where individuals have difficulty paying attention.[2]

Dopamine, Attention, and Reward Systems

Attention deficits may also stem from lack of motivation to complete a task. Patients who have trouble paying attention have been found to require stronger incentives and prefer smaller, more instant rewards, as opposed to larger, more distant rewards.[3][4][5] While dopamine is important for optimal PFC function, it is also important in what is known as the mesolimbic pathway. This pathway connects the VTA to the nucleus accumbens (NAcc), and is responsible for reward systems, which relies heavily on dopamine. Disruptions in this pathway have been found in individuals who require more instant gratification for rewards.[6]

A Natural Approach to Enhancing Focus

Given the role of dopamine and glutamate in attention, consider measuring their levels using a non-invasive urinary, at-home test. Armed with the results, healthcare providers can promote healthy levels of these two markers using natural interventions such as Mucuna pruriens for dopamine support. For a list of natural ingredients shown to improve focus and attention and more detailed information on dopamine’s role in the PFC, check out our blog “Your Attention Issues Please



[1] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (April 29, 2016). Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Retrieved from
[2] Erin M. Miller, Theresa C. Thomas, Greg A. Gerhardt and Paul E. A.
Glaser. 2013. Dopamine and Glutamate Interactions in ADHD: Implications for the Future Neuropharmacology of ADHD, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder in Children and Adolescents, Dr. Somnath Banerjee (Ed.), InTech, DOI: 10.5772/54207.
[3] Kollins SH, Lane SD, Shapiro SK. The experimental analysis of childhood psychopathology: a matching analysis of the behavior of children diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Psychol Rec 1997; 47: 25–44.
[4] Sonuga-Barke EJ. The dual pathway model of AD/HD: an elaboration of neuro-developmental characteristics. Neurosci Biobehav Rev 2003; 27: 593–604.
[5] Tripp G, Wickens JR. Research review: dopamine transfer deficit: a neurobiological theory of altered reinforcement mechanisms in ADHD. J Child Psychiatry 2008; 49: 691–704.
[6] Volkow ND et al. Motivation deficit in ADHD is associated with dysfunction of the dopamine reward pathway. Molecular Psychiatry 2011; 16: 1147-1154.

Clinical Contributor

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Connie Shoemaker, ND

Connie Shoemaker, ND

“Educating Sanesco’s clients is the culmination of a life’s work.” Beginning when she left the hospital environment to manage a functional laboratory, Genova Diagnostics (formerly Great Smokies Laboratories) in 1987, Dr. Connie Shoemaker has continued to increase her knowledge of herbs and biochemistry as a journey of love. With her bachelor’s in science from Western Carolina University, she had worked in hospital laboratories for the first twelve years of her career. Then, personal health challenges led her to discover a new approach to her health and a determination to share it with others. In 1991, she began teaching and educating innovative practitioners in the U.S. and internationally as a manager of marketing, sales, and customer service.

The addition of her Doctor of Naturopathy degree to her existing knowledge base expanded her knowledge and her respect for a more natural approach to healing through balance. At Sanesco, she initially served to oversee technical development of products and services.

Now, she educates Sanesco’s clients on application of the CSM™ model for their specific patients and how to integrate the CSM™ model with other modalities they offer in their practice. In her personal life, Connie educates private clients on various health topics.

Disclaimer: The information provided is only intended to be general educational information to the public. It does not constitute medical advice. If you have specific questions about any medical matter or if you are suffering from any medical condition, you should consult your doctor or other professional healthcare provider.

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