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Journal Article

Differential modulation of reinforcement learning by D2 dopamine and NMDA glutamate receptor antagonism


Klein,  Tilmann A.
Department Neurology, MPI for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, Max Planck Society;
Clinic of Cognitive Neurology, University of Leipzig, Germany;

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Jocham, G., Klein, T. A., & Ullsperger, M. (2014). Differential modulation of reinforcement learning by D2 dopamine and NMDA glutamate receptor antagonism. The Journal of Neuroscience: the Official Journal of the Society for Neuroscience, 34(39), 13151-13162. doi:10.1523/JNEUROSCI.0757-14.2014.

Cite as: http://hdl.handle.net/11858/00-001M-0000-0024-42B5-E
The firing pattern of midbrain dopamine (DA) neurons is well known to reflect reward prediction errors (PEs), the difference between obtained and expected rewards. The PE is thought to be a crucial signal for instrumental learning, and interference with DA transmission impairs learning. Phasic increases of DA neuron firing during positive PEs are driven by activation of NMDA receptors, whereas phasic suppression of firing during negative PEs is likely mediated by inputs from the lateral habenula. We aimed to determine the contribution of DA D2-class and NMDA receptors to appetitively and aversively motivated reinforcement learning. Healthy human volunteers were scanned with functional magnetic resonance imaging while they performed an instrumental learning task under the influence of either the DA D2 receptor antagonist amisulpride (400 mg), the NMDA receptor antagonist memantine (20 mg), or placebo. Participants quickly learned to select (“approach”) rewarding and to reject (“avoid”) punishing options. Amisulpride impaired both approach and avoidance learning, while memantine mildly attenuated approach learning but had no effect on avoidance learning. These behavioral effects of the antagonists were paralleled by their modulation of striatal PEs. Amisulpride reduced both appetitive and aversive PEs, while memantine diminished appetitive, but not aversive PEs. These data suggest that striatal D2-class receptors contribute to both approach and avoidance learning by detecting both the phasic DA increases and decreases during appetitive and aversive PEs. NMDA receptors on the contrary appear to be required only for approach learning because phasic DA increases during positive PEs are NMDA dependent, whereas phasic decreases during negative PEs are not.