Acute phenylalanine/tyrosine depletion of phasic dopamine in the rat brain

Tatiana Shnitko, Sarah C. Taylor, Sierra J. Stringfield, Shannon L. Zandy, Roberto U. Cofresí, James M. Doherty, William B. Lynch, Charlotte A. Boettiger, Rueben A. Gonzales, Donita L. Robinson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

8 Scopus citations


Rationale: Dopamine plays a critical role in striatal and cortical function, and depletion of the dopamine precursors phenylalanine and tyrosine is used in humans to temporarily reduce dopamine and probe the role of dopamine in behavior. This method has been shown to alter addiction-related behaviors and cognitive functioning presumably by reducing dopamine transmission, but it is unclear what specific aspects of dopamine transmission are altered. Objectives: We performed this study to confirm that administration of an amino acid mixture omitting phenylalanine and tyrosine (Phe/Tyr[−]) reduces tyrosine tissue content in the prefrontal cortex (PFC) and nucleus accumbens (NAc), and to test the hypothesis that Phe/Tyr[−] administration reduces phasic dopamine release in the NAc. Methods: Rats were injected with a Phe/Tyr[−] amino acid mixture, a control amino acid mixture, or saline. High-performance liquid chromatography was used to determine the concentration of tyrosine, dopamine, or norepinephrine in tissue punches from the PFC and ventral striatum. In a separate group of rats, phasic dopamine release was measured with fast-scan cyclic voltammetry in the NAc core after injection with either the Phe/Tyr[−] mixture or the control amino acid solution. Results: Phe/Tyr[−] reduced tyrosine content in the PFC and NAc, but dopamine and norepinephrine tissue content were not reduced. Moreover, Phe/Tyr[−] decreased the frequency of dopamine transients, but not their amplitude, in freely moving rats. Conclusions: These results indicate that depletion of tyrosine via Phe/Tyr[−] decreases phasic dopamine transmission, providing insight into the mechanism by which this method modifies dopamine-dependent behaviors in human imaging studies.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2045-2054
Number of pages10
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - Jun 1 2016
Externally publishedYes



  • (Up to 10) Dopamine
  • Depletion
  • Fast-scan cyclic voltammetry
  • Norepinephrine
  • Nucleus accumbens
  • Prefrontal cortex
  • Tyrosine

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pharmacology

Cite this

Shnitko, T., Taylor, S. C., Stringfield, S. J., Zandy, S. L., Cofresí, R. U., Doherty, J. M., ... Robinson, D. L. (2016). Acute phenylalanine/tyrosine depletion of phasic dopamine in the rat brain. Psychopharmacology, 233(11), 2045-2054.