Rationale: Animal research suggests that anticipation of reward can elicit dopamine release in the nucleus accumbens (NAcc). Human functional magnetic resonance imaging (FMRI) research further suggests that reward anticipation can increase local blood oxygen level dependent (BOLD) signal in the NAcc. However, the physiological relationship between dopamine release and BOLD signal increases in the NAcc has not yet been established.
Objectives: This review considers pharmacological MRI (phMRI) evidence for a directional relationship between NAcc dopamine release and BOLD signal, as well as implications for human psychopathological symptoms.
Results: Accumulating phMRI evidence supports a simple model in which NAcc dopamine release activates postsynaptic D1 receptors, which changes postsynaptic membrane potential, eventually increasing local BOLD signal. This continuing influence can change on a second-to-second basis.
Conclusions: Dopamine release in the NAcc appears to increase local BOLD signal via agonism of postsynaptic D1 receptors. Such a physiological mechanism implies that FMRI may be used to track symptoms related to NAcc dopaminergic dysregulation in psychiatric disorders including schizophrenia and attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder.