• dopamine;
  • grooming;
  • movement;
  • striatum;
  • syntax


The role of dopamine in the production of behaviour is multifarious in that it can influence different aspects of movement (e.g. movement initiation, sensorimotor integration, and movement sequencing). A characteristic of the dopamine system which seems to be critical for the expression of this diverse influence is its varied receptor population. Previous studies have shown that specific receptor subtype activation leads to specific behavioural responses or alterations of selective aspects of movement. It is known that one of the important influences of dopamine includes sequential co-ordination of ‘syntactic' patterns of grooming movements because moderate loss of the dopaminergic nigrostriatal projections specifically disrupts these patterns without affecting grooming actions in a general fashion (Berridge, K.C. Psychobiology, 15, 336 1989). The specific receptors of the dopamine family which play a key part in this co-ordination of movement sequences is not known. In the present study, we examined the serial order of particular syntactic sequences or chains of grooming actions in mice lacking D1A receptors to explore the relationship between this receptor subtype and movement sequencing. Mutant mice had shorter grooming bouts and a disruption of the organization of sequential patterns compared with wild-type littermate controls. Sequential disruption was reflected in the failure of D1A mutants to follow the syntactic pattern of grooming to completion. This sequential disruption deficit appeared to be specific, as mutant mice initiated more syntactic chains than wild-type controls even though they were less likely to complete them. These results support the hypothesis that D1A receptor activation plays a part in the sequencing of natural action. This conclusion has important implications for the understanding of the functional heterogeneity of dopamine receptor subtypes and of the aetiology of symptoms observed in patients with basal ganglia disease.