Dopaminergic Circuitry and Risk/Reward Decision Making: Implications for Schizophrenia

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Abstract

Abnormal reinforcement learning and representations of reward value are present in schizophrenia, and these impairments can manifest as deficits in risk/reward decision making. These abnormalities may be due in part to dopaminergic dysfunction within cortico-limbic-striatal circuitry. Evidence from studies with laboratory animal have revealed that normal DA activity within different nodes of these circuits is critical for mediating dissociable processes that can refine decision biases. Moreover, both phasic and tonic dopamine transmission appear to play separate yet complementary roles in these processes. Tonic dopamine release within the prefrontal cortex and nucleus accumbens, serves as a “running rate-meter” of reward and reflects contextual information such as reward uncertainty and overt choice behavior. On the other hand, manipulations of outcome-related phasic dopamine bursts and dips suggest these signals provide rapid feedback to allow for quick adjustments in choice as reward contingencies change. The lateral habenula is a key input to the DA system that phasic signals is necessary for expressing subjective decision biases; as suppression of activity within this nucleus leads to catastrophic impairments in decision making and random patterns of choice behavior. As schizophrenia is characterized by impairments in using positive and negative feedback to appropriately guide decision making, these findings suggest that these deficits in these processes may be mediated, at least in part, by abnormalities in both tonic and phasic dopamine transmission.

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