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J Neurosci. 2011 May 18;31(20):7291-9. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.0363-11.2011.

Dorsal striatal D2-like receptor availability covaries with sensitivity to positive reinforcement during discrimination learning.

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Department of Psychology, University of California, Los Angeles, Los Angeles, California 90095, USA.


Deviations in reward sensitivity and behavioral flexibility, particularly in the ability to change or stop behaviors in response to changing environmental contingencies, are important phenotypic dimensions of several neuropsychiatric disorders. Neuroimaging evidence suggests that variation in dopamine signaling through dopamine D(2)-like receptors may influence these phenotypes, as well as associated psychiatric conditions, but the specific neurocognitive mechanisms through which this influence is exerted are unknown. To address this question, we examined the relationship between behavioral sensitivity to reinforcement during discrimination learning and D(2)-like receptor availability in vervet monkeys. Monkeys were assessed for their ability to acquire, retain, and reverse three-choice, visual-discrimination problems, and once behavioral performance had stabilized, they received positron emission tomography (PET) scans. D(2)-like receptor availability in dorsal aspects of the striatum was not related to individual differences in the ability to acquire or retain visual discriminations but did relate to the number of trials required to reach criterion in the reversal phase of the task. D(2)-like receptor availability was also strongly correlated with behavioral sensitivity to positive, but not negative, feedback during learning. These results go beyond electrophysiological findings by demonstrating the involvement of a striatal dopaminergic marker in individual differences in feedback sensitivity and behavioral flexibility, providing insight into the neural mechanisms that are affected in neuropsychiatric disorders that feature these deficits.

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