Front Behav Neurosci 2016 24;10:205. Epub 2016 Oct 24.
Department of Behavioural Neuroscience, IRCCS Fondazione Ospedale San CamilloVenice, Italy; Institute for Medical Psychology and Behavioural Neurobiology, University of TübingenTübingen, Germany.
Dopamine systems mediate key aspects of reward learning. Parkinson's disease (PD) represents a valuable model to study reward mechanisms because both the disease process and the anti-Parkinson medications influence dopamine neurotransmission. The aim of this pilot study was to investigate whether the level of levodopa differently modulates learning from positive and negative feedback and its electrophysiological correlate, the error related negativity (ERN), in PD. Ten PD patients and ten healthy participants performed a two-stage reinforcement learning task. In the Learning Phase, they had to learn the correct stimulus within a stimulus pair on the basis of a probabilistic positive or negative feedback. Three sets of stimulus pairs were used. In the Testing Phase, the participants were tested with novel combinations of the stimuli previously experienced to evaluate whether they learned more from positive or negative feedback. PD patients performed the task both ON- and OFF-levodopa in two separate sessions while they remained on stable therapy with dopamine agonists. The electroencephalogram (EEG) was recorded during the task. PD patients were less accurate in negative than positive learning both OFF- and ON-levodopa. In the OFF-levodopa state they were less accurate than controls in negative learning. PD patients had a smaller ERN amplitude OFF- than ON-levodopa only in negative learning. In the OFF-levodopa state they had a smaller ERN amplitude than controls in negative learning. We hypothesize that high tonic dopaminergic stimulation due to the dopamine agonist medication, combined to the low level of phasic dopamine due to the OFF-levodopa state, could prevent phasic "dopamine dips" indicated by the ERN needed for learning from negative feedback.