Striatal dopaminergic modulation of reinforcement learning predicts reward-oriented behavior in daily life

Zuzana Kasanova*, Jenny Ceccarini, Michael J. Frank, Therese van Amelsvoort, Jan Booij, Alexander Heinzel, Felix Mottaghy, Inez Myin-Germeys

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Much human behavior is driven by rewards. Preclinical neurophysiological and clinical positron emission tomography (PET) studies have implicated striatal phasic dopamine (DA) release as a primary modulator of reward processing. However, the relationship between experimental reward-induced striatal DA release and responsiveness to naturalistic rewards, and therefore functional relevance of these findings, has been elusive.

We therefore combined, for the first time, a DA D-2/3 receptor [F-18] fallypride PET during a probabilistic reinforcement learning (RL) task with a six day ecological momentary assessments (EMA) of reward-related behavior in the everyday life of 16 healthy volunteers. We detected significant reward-induced DA release in the bilateral putamen, caudate nucleus and ventral striatum, the extent of which was associated with better behavioral performance on the RL task across all regions. Furthermore, individual variability in the extent of reward-induced DA release in the right caudate nucleus and ventral striatum modulated the tendency to be actively engaged in a behavior if the active engagement was previously deemed enjoyable. This study suggests a link between striatal reward-related DA release and ecologically relevant reward-oriented behavior, suggesting an avenue for the inquiry into the DAergic basis of optimal and impaired motivational drive.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-9
Number of pages9
JournalBiological Psychology
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2017


  • Dopamine
  • Reward
  • Reinforcement learning
  • PET
  • Ecological momentary assessments
  • Motivation
  • TASK


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