Yacubian et al.(link to full text) demonstrate that human genetic variations that alter dopamine neurotransmission involved in reward pathways correlate with change in sensitivity to rewards and also with activity in the ventral striatum reward system. The data suggest a potential genetic basis for drug vulnerability. Here is their abstract:
Reward processing depends on dopaminergic neurotransmission and is modulated by factors affecting dopamine (DA) reuptake and degradation. We used fMRI and a guessing task sensitive to reward-related activation in the prefrontal cortex and ventral striatum to study how individual variation in genes contributing to DA reuptake [DA transporter (DAT)] and degradation [catechol-o-methyltransferase (COMT)] influences reward processing. Prefrontal activity, evoked by anticipation of reward irrespective of reward probability and magnitude, was COMT genotype-dependent. Volunteers homozygous for the Met allele, associated with lower enzyme activity and presumably greater DA availability, showed larger responses compared with volunteers homozygous for the Val allele. A similar COMT effect was observed in the ventral striatum. As reported previously, the ventral striatum was also found to code gain-related expected value, i.e., the product of reward magnitude and gain probability. Individual differences in ventral striatal sensitivity for value were in part explained by an epistatic gene–gene interaction between COMT and DAT. Although most genotype combinations exhibited the expected activity increase with more likely and larger rewards, two genotype combinations (COMT Met/Met DAT 10R and COMT Val/Val 9R) were associated with blunted ventral striatal responses. In view of a consistent relationship between reduced reward sensitivity and addiction, our findings point to a potential genetic basis for vulnerability to addiction.