Theories of the positive symptoms of schizophrenia hypothesize a role for aberrant reinforcement signaling driven by dysregulated dopamine transmission. Recently, we provided evidence of aberrant reward learning in symptomatic, but not asymptomatic patients with schizophrenia, using a novel paradigm, the Salience Attribution Test (SAT). The SAT is a probabilistic reward learning game that employs cues that vary across task-relevant and task-irrelevant dimensions; it provides behavioral indices of adaptive and aberrant reward learning. As an initial step prior to future clinical studies, here we used functional magnetic resonance imaging to examine the neural basis of adaptive and aberrant reward learning during the SAT in healthy volunteers. As expected, cues associated with high relative to low reward probabilities elicited robust hemodynamic responses in a network of structures previously implicated in motivational salience; the midbrain, in the vicinity of the ventral tegmental area, and regions targeted by its dopaminergic projections, i.e. medial dorsal thalamus, ventral striatum and prefrontal cortex (PFC). Responses in the medial dorsal thalamus and polar PFC were strongly correlated with the degree of adaptive reward learning across participants. Finally, and most importantly, differential dorsolateral PFC and middle temporal gyrus (MTG) responses to cues with identical reward probabilities were very strongly correlated with the degree of aberrant reward learning. Participants who showed greater aberrant learning exhibited greater dorsolateral PFC responses, and reduced MTG responses, to cues erroneously inferred to be less strongly associated with reward. The results are discussed in terms of their implications for different theories of associative learning.
Copyright 2009 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.