Dopamine Enhances Item Novelty Detection via Hippocampal and Associative Recall via Left Lateral Prefrontal Cortex Mechanisms

Mareike Clos, Nico Bunzeck, Tobias Sommer


The involvement of fronto-striatal circuits in item and associative memory retrieval as well as in the stabilization of memories by retrieval practice suggests that both retrieval and re-encoding of stored memories might rely on dopaminergic mechanisms in humans. We tested these hypotheses in a placebo-controlled pharmacological fMRI study using 2 mg of the D2 antagonist haloperidol administered acutely before a cued associative recall task of previously encoded picture-word pairs in 53 healthy humans of both sexes. The cued associative recall was moreover repeated 3 d later outside the scanner without pharmacological intervention. Dopaminergic modulation significantly improved associative recall performance and recognition accuracy of verbal items. Moreover, we observed a significant dopamine effect on re-encoding in terms of increased specificity of associative memories from the first to the second cued associative recall. Better association memory under haloperidol was linked with higher activity in the left lateral prefrontal cortex and right parietal cortex, suggesting that dopamine facilitates associative retrieval through increased recruitment of frontoparietal monitoring processes. In contrast, improved recognition of verbal items under haloperidol was reflected by enhanced novelty detection in the hippocampus and increased activity in saliency networks. Together, these results show distinct but concomitant positive effects of dopamine on associative recall and item recognition and suggest that the specificity of associative recall through re-encoding mechanisms is likewise augmented by dopamine.SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT Although the neurotransmitter dopamine has been linked with learning and memory for a long time, dopaminergic effects on item recognition in humans were demonstrated only recently. The involvement of fronto-striatal monitoring processes in association retrieval suggests that associative memory might be particularly affected by dopamine. Moreover, fronto-striatal dopaminergic signals have been hypothesized to determine the updating and re-encoding of previously retrieved memories. We here demonstrate clear facilitative effects of dopamine on associative recall and item recognition mediated by prefrontal and hippocampal mechanisms respectively. Additionally, effects on re-encoding were reflected by increased specificity of associative memories. These results augment our understanding of dopaminergic processes in episodic memory retrieval and offer new perspectives on memory impairments in dopamine-related disorders and their treatment.

Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Neuroscience
Issue number40
Pages (from-to)7920-7933
Number of pages14
Publication statusPublished - 2019


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