Genetic contributions to avoidance-based decisions: striatal D2 receptor polymorphisms

Neuroscience. 2009 Nov 24;164(1):131-40. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroscience.2009.04.048. Epub 2009 Apr 22.


Individuals differ in their tendencies to seek positive decision outcomes or to avoid negative ones. At the neurobiological level, our model suggests that phasic changes in dopamine support learning to reinforce good decisions via striatal D1 receptors, and to avoid maladaptive choices via striatal D2 receptors. Accordingly, in a previous study individual differences in positive and negative learning were strongly modulated by two genetic polymorphisms factors related to striatal D1 and D2 function, respectively. Nevertheless, whereas the role for dopamine in positive learning is relatively well accepted, that in learning to avoid negative outcomes is more controversial. Here we further explore D2-receptor-related genetic contributions to probabilistic avoidance in humans, in light of recent data showing that particular DRD2 polymorphisms are associated with functional modulation of receptor expression [Zhang Y, Bertolino A, Fazio L, Blasi G, Rampino A, Romano R, Lee M-LT, Xiao T, Papp A, Wang D, Sadée W (2007) Polymorphisms in human dopamine d2 receptor gene affect gene expression, splicing, and neuronal activity during working memory. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 104(51):20552-20557]. We find that a promoter polymorphism rs12364283 associated with transcription and D2 receptor density was strongly and selectively predictive of avoidance-based decisions. Two further polymorphisms (rs2283265 and rs1076560) associated with relatively reduced presynaptic relative to postsynaptic D2 receptor expression were predictive of relative impairments in negative compared to positive decisions. These previously undocumented effects of DRD2 polymorphisms were largely independent of those we reported previously for the C957T polymorphism (rs6277) associated with striatal D2 density. In contrast, effects of the commonly studied Taq1A polymorphism on reinforcement-based decisions were due to indirect association with C957T. Taken together these findings suggest multiple D2-dependent genetic mechanisms contributing to avoidance. We discuss these effects in the context of neurocomputational models of reinforcement leaning in the basal ganglia.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Avoidance Learning / physiology*
  • Corpus Striatum / physiology*
  • Decision Making / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Linear Models
  • Male
  • Neurons / metabolism
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Polymorphism, Genetic*
  • Polymorphism, Single Nucleotide
  • Presynaptic Terminals / metabolism
  • Probability
  • Receptors, Dopamine D2 / genetics*
  • Receptors, Dopamine D2 / metabolism*
  • Sequence Analysis, DNA
  • Synapses / genetics
  • Synapses / metabolism
  • Young Adult


  • Receptors, Dopamine D2