Monday, November 09, 2009

Genes that influence our adaptability to changing rewards

Krugel et al show that a genetic change that leads to replacement of the amino acid valine with methionine in an enzyme regulating brain dopamine levels alters the flexible adaptation of reward based learning.
We show a behavioral advantage for the phylogenetically ancestral Val/Val genotype in an instrumental reversal learning task that requires rapid and flexible adaptation of decisions to changing reward contingencies in a dynamic environment...we discovered that a higher and more flexible learning rate underlies the advantage of the Val/Val genotype. Model-based fMRI analysis revealed that greater and more differentiated striatal fMRI responses to prediction errors reflect this advantage on the neurobiological level. Learning rate-dependent changes in effective connectivity between the striatum and prefrontal cortex were greater in the Val/Val than Met/Met genotype, suggesting that the advantage results from a downstream effect of the prefrontal cortex that is presumably mediated by differences in dopamine metabolism. These results show a critical role of dopamine in processing the weight a particular prediction error has on the expectation updating for the next decision.

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