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The Catecholamines and Your Ability to Pay Attention


Are you having difficulty concentrating? If you can maintain focus until the end of this blog post, you may learn how your catecholamines are involved in concentration—or lack thereof.

Attention and the Catecholamines, Norepinephrine and Dopamine

Norepinephrine and Dopamine are part of the catecholamine family of neurotransmitters which are derived from the amino acids phenylalanine and/or tyrosine.

The catecholamines are important in regulating functions of the prefrontal cortex of the brain (1).

Norepinephrine (or Noradrenaline) is involved in brain functions such as:

  • Mood regulation
  • Drive and ambition
  • Learning and memory
  • Alertness

Dopamine in the brain:

  • Enhances memory
  • Promotes focus
  • Provides salience, or preferential attention to external stimuli that promise reward

Norepinephrine and Dopamine pathways in the Central Nervous System interact with each other, so they must both be in balance to synergistically perform normal prefrontal cortex functions. Too much or too little of either neurotransmitter can impair our ability to focus (1).

The Inability to Focus

An extreme inability to focus can be seen in people with inattention, impulsiveness, or over activity issues and is found primarily in children and adolescents (2).

According to the CDC, about 11% of children 4-17 years old in the United States (that’s 6.4 million!) suffer from these issues (3). These issues are important because many self-medicate to help with focus (4).

Attention and Norepinephrine and Dopamine

Norepinephrine and dopamine are both involved in the pathophysiology of inattention and poor focus. In fact, interventions increasing dopamine and norepinephrine in the neuronal synapse are commonly used to help (2).

Studies have genetics also play a large role (4). If one of your parents had issues, you would be much more likely to also have them.

Some of the genes involved control the abundance and transmission of catecholamines.

Researchers have found the genes coding for the norepinephrine transporter, D4 dopamine receptor, and the dopamine transporter to be associated with inattention, focus issues, and over activity (4,5,6). Inattention and impulsivity were associated with polymorphisms in these genes in symptomatic and non-symptomatic people (4).


These findings demonstrate how dopamine and norepinephrine are involved in attention and concentration processes in healthy brains, and how understanding their dysfunction could explain some of these issues.

Again, balance between these two catecholamines is essential for normal cognitive function! That is why testing levels of neurotransmitters is so important for supporting anyone who needs help staying focused. Find or become a Sanesco provider to test these neurotransmitters.



  1. Bo Xing, Yan-Chun Li, Wen-Jun Gao. (2016). Norepinephrine versus dopamine and their interaction in modulating synaptic function in the prefrontal cortex. Brain Research, 1641, 217-233.
  2. Del Campo N, Chamberlain SR, Sahakian BJ, et. al. (2011). Biological Psychiatry. The Roles of Dopamine and Noradrenaline in the Pathophysiology and Treatment of Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. 69,145–157.
  3. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2016). Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. Retrieved from
  4. Gizer IR & Waldman ID. (2012). Double Dissociation Between Lab Measures of Inattention and Impulsivity and the Dopamine Transporter Gene (DAT1) and Dopamine D4 Receptor Gene (DRD4). Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 121(4), 1011-1023.
  5. Faraone Stephen V, Biederman J, Weiffenbach B, et. al. (1999). Dopamine D4 gene 7-repeat allele and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. The American Journal of Psychiatry, 156(5), 768-770.
  6. Sengupta SM, Grizenko N, Thakur GA, et. al. (2012) Differential association between the norepinephrine transporter gene and ADHD: role of sex and subtype. Journal of Psychiatry and Neuroscience, 37(2),129-37.

Clinical Contributor

Marina Braine

Clinical Support Specialist at Sanesco International, Inc.

Marina Braine is a Clinical Support Specialist at Sanesco. She graduated from UNC-Asheville with her Bachelors of Science in Biology with a minor in French. She likes to keep active by hiking, running, and contra dancing around Asheville.

Ramona Richard, MS, NC

Ramona Richard, MS, NC

Ramona Richard graduated with honors from the University of California with a Bachelor’s Degree in psychology and graduated summa cum laude with a Master’s Degree in Health and Nutrition Education. She also holds a Standard Designated Teaching Credential from the State of California, is a California state-certified Nutrition Consultant and a member of the National Association of Nutrition Professionals.

Ramona has participated in nutrition education in both public and private venues, including high school and college presentations, radio and public speaking for the past 20 years. She is the owner of Radiance, a nutrition consulting company, the Director of Education for Sanesco International, and a medical technical writer.

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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