Striatal dopamine release codes uncertainty in pathological gambling


Two mechanisms of midbrain and striatal dopaminergic projections may be involved in pathological gambling: hypersensitivity to reward and sustained activation toward uncertainty. The midbrain-striatal dopamine system distinctly codes reward and uncertainty, where dopaminergic activation is a linear function of expected reward and an inverse U-shaped function of uncertainty. In this study, we investigated the dopaminergic coding of reward and uncertainty in 18 pathological gambling sufferers and 16 healthy controls. We used positron emission tomography (PET) with the tracer [C]raclopride to measure dopamine release, and we used performance on the Iowa Gambling Task (IGT) to determine overall reward and uncertainty. We hypothesized that we would find a linear function between dopamine release and IGT performance, if dopamine release coded reward in pathological gambling. If, on the other hand, dopamine release coded uncertainty, we would find an inversely U-shaped function. The data supported an inverse U-shaped relation between striatal dopamine release and IGT performance if the pathological gambling group, but not in the healthy control group. These results are consistent with the hypothesis of dopaminergic sensitivity toward uncertainty, and suggest that dopaminergic sensitivity to uncertainty is pronounced in pathological gambling, but not among non-gambling healthy controls. The findings have implications for understanding dopamine dysfunctions in pathological gambling and addictive behaviors.

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