Role of dopamine D2 receptors in human reinforcement learning

C. Eisenegger, M. Naef, A. Linssen, L. Clark, P.K. Gandamaneni, U. Müller, T.W. Robbins

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

Abstract

Influential neurocomputational models emphasize dopamine (DA) as an electrophysiological and neurochemical correlate of reinforcement learning. However, evidence of a specific causal role of DA receptors in learning has been less forthcoming, especially in humans. Here we combine, in a between-subjects design, administration of a high dose of the selective DA D2/3-receptor antagonist sulpiride with genetic analysis of the DA D2 receptor in a behavioral study of reinforcement learning in a sample of 78 healthy male volunteers. In contrast to predictions of prevailing models emphasizing DA's pivotal role in learning via prediction errors, we found that sulpiride did not disrupt learning, but rather induced profound impairments in choice performance. The disruption was selective for stimuli indicating reward, while loss avoidance performance was unaffected. Effects were driven by volunteers with higher serum levels of the drug, and in those with genetically-determined lower density of striatal DA D2 receptors. This is the clearest demonstration to date for a causal modulatory role of the DA D2 receptor in choice performance that might be distinct from learning. Our findings challenge current reward prediction error models of reinforcement learning, and suggest that classical animal models emphasizing a role of postsynaptic DA D2 receptors in motivational aspects of reinforcement learning may apply to humans as well.Neuropsychopharmacology accepted article peview online, 09 April 2014; doi:10.1038/npp.2014.84.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2366-2375
Number of pages10
JournalNeuropsychopharmacology
Volume39
Issue number10
Early online date9 Apr 2014
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Sep 2014

Keywords

  • NUCLEUS-ACCUMBENS DOPAMINE
  • HEALTHY-VOLUNTEERS
  • WORKING-MEMORY
  • PARKINSONS-DISEASE
  • PREDICTION ERRORS
  • REWARD-SEEKING
  • NEURONS ENCODE
  • GENE PREDICTS
  • A1 ALLELE
  • BEHAVIOR

Cite this

Eisenegger, C., Naef, M., Linssen, A., Clark, L., Gandamaneni, P. K., Müller, U., & Robbins, T. W. (2014). Role of dopamine D2 receptors in human reinforcement learning. Neuropsychopharmacology, 39(10), 2366-2375. https://doi.org/10.1038/npp.2014.84