Dopamine controls the neural dynamics of memory signals and retrieval accuracy

Thore Apitz, Nico Bunzeck


The human brain is capable of differentiating between new and already stored information rapidly to allow optimal behavior and decision-making. Although the neural mechanisms of novelty discrimination were often described as temporally constant (ie, with specific latencies), recent electrophysiological studies have demonstrated that the onset of neural novelty signals (ie, differences in event-related responses to new and old items) can be accelerated by reward motivation. While the precise physiological mechanisms underlying this acceleration remain unclear, the involvement of the neurotransmitter dopamine in both novelty and reward processing suggests that enhanced dopamine levels in the context of reward prospect may have a role. To investigate this hypothesis, we used magnetoencephalography (MEG) in combination with an old/new recognition memory task in which correct discrimination between old and new items was rewarded. Importantly, before the task, human subjects received either 150 mg of the dopamine precursor levodopa or placebo. For the placebo group, old/new signals peaked at ∼100 ms after stimulus onset over left temporal/occipital sensors. In contrast, after levodopa administration earliest old/new effects only emerged after ∼400 ms and retrieval accuracy was reduced as expressed in lower d' values. As such, our results point towards a previously unreported role of dopamine in controlling the chronometry of neural processes underlying the distinction between old and new information. They also suggest that this relationship follows a nonlinear function whereby slightly enhanced dopamine levels accelerate neural/cognitive processes and excessive dopamine levels impair them.

Seiten (von - bis)2409-17
PublikationsstatusVeröffentlicht - 11.2013


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