Rationale: Dopamine is involved in a variety of motor and non-motor information-processing operations. One way to determine its contribution to human information processing is to study reaction time (RT) performance after oral absorption of its precursor, levodopa, which increases its concentration in the nervous system.
Objective: The purpose of the present study was to investigate the effect of a single dose of levodopa on information processing in healthy human subjects using the additive-factor method. After oral absorption of a single dose of levodopa (200 mg) or a placebo (randomized, double-blind, cross-over design), eight adults (aged 21-28 years, mean 25 years) performed a two-choice visual RT task. Signal intensity, stimulus-response mapping and foreperiod duration were manipulated.
Results: The effects of these three variables were found additive on RT, indicating that that three independent stages - namely, stimulus preprocessing, response selection and motor adjustment - were manipulated. Levodopa improved RT performance in a specific way: it interacted with signal intensity but its effect was additive with those of stimulus-response mapping and foreperiod duration.
Conclusion: These results show that levodopa specifically affects the stimulus preprocessing stage, which suggests that the dopaminergic system plays a role in sensory processing, possibly by acting on the level of arousal.