Dopamine and temporal attention: An attentional blink study in Parkinson's disease patients on and off medication

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The current study aimed to shed more light on the role of dopamine in temporal attention. To this end, we pharmacologically manipulated dopamine levels in a large sample of Parkinson's disease patients (n=63) while they performed an attentional blink (AB) task in which they had to identify two targets (T1 and T2) presented in close temporal proximity among distractors. We specifically examined 1) differences in the magnitude of the AB between unmedicated Parkinson patients, who have depleted levels of striatal dopamine, and healthy controls, and 2) effects of two dopaminergic medications (l-DOPA and dopamine agonists) on the AB in the Parkinson patients at the group level and as a function of individual baseline performance. In line with the notion that relatively low levels of striatal dopamine may impair target detection in general, Parkinson patients OFF medications displayed overall poor target perception compared to healthy controls. Moreover, as predicted, effects of dopaminergic medication on AB performance critically depended on individual baseline AB size, although this effect was only observed for l-DOPA. l-DOPA generally decreased the size of the AB in patients with a large baseline AB (i.e., OFF medications), while l-DOPA generally increased the AB in patients with a small baseline AB. These findings may support a role for dopamine in the AB and temporal attention, more generally and corroborate the notion that there is an optimum dopamine level for cognitive function. They also emphasize the need for more studies that examine the separate effects of DA agonists and l-DOPA on cognitive functioning.

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