This review addresses the present state of single-cell models of the firing pattern of midbrain dopamine neurons and the insights that can be gained from these models into the underlying mechanisms for diseases such as Parkinson’s, addiction, and schizophrenia. We will explain the analytical technique of separation of time scales and show how it can produce insights into mechanisms using simplified single-compartment models. We also use morphologically realistic multicompartmental models to address spatially heterogeneous aspects of neural signaling and neural metabolism. Separation of time scale analyses are applied to pacemaking, bursting, and depolarization block in dopamine neurons. Differences in subpopulations with respect to metabolic load are addressed using multicompartmental models.