Rationale: The basal ganglia play an important role in motor control, which is dependent on dopaminergic input. Preparation of a motor response has been associated with dopamine release in the basal ganglia, and response readiness may therefore serve as a pharmacodynamic marker of dopamine activity.
Methods: We measured response readiness using the amplitude of the contingent negative variation (CNV), a slow negative shift in the electroencephalogram. The CNV is evoked in a paradigm in which a warning stimulus (S1) signals the occurrence of the imperative stimulus (S2) 4 s later, to which the participant has to respond. CNV was assessed in healthy volunteers after administration of placebo or 10, 20 or 40 mg of methylphenidate, a catecholamine re-uptake blocker which primarily enhances the synaptic concentration of dopamine and to a lesser extent also noradrenaline. In addition, participants filled out two visual analogue scales measuring subjective ratings of mood and alertness: Profile of Mood States and Bond and Lader.
Results: Methylphenidate dose dependently increased CNV amplitude and decreased reaction times. Furthermore, participants reported improved mood, feeling more alert, vigorous and content and less angry and tired after methylphenidate.
Conclusions: These results indicate that dopamine availability increases response readiness as measured by the CNV paradigm. The CNV appears to be a good candidate biomarker for assessing changes in dopaminergic function by treatments that either directly or indirectly target the dopaminergic system.