Reward learning as a potential target for pharmacological augmentation of cognitive remediation for schizophrenia: a roadmap for preclinical development

Front Neurosci. 2013 Jun 18:7:103. doi: 10.3389/fnins.2013.00103. eCollection 2013.


Rationale: Impaired cognitive abilities are a key characteristic of schizophrenia. Although currently approved pharmacological treatments have demonstrated efficacy for positive symptoms, to date no pharmacological treatments successfully reverse cognitive dysfunction in these patients. Cognitively-based interventions such as cognitive remediation (CR) and other psychosocial interventions however, may improve some of the cognitive and functional deficits of schizophrenia. Given that these treatments are time-consuming and labor-intensive, maximizing their effectiveness is a priority. Augmenting psychosocial interventions with pharmacological treatments may be a viable strategy for reducing the impact of cognitive deficits in patients with schizophrenia.

Objective: We propose a strategy to develop pharmacological treatments that can enhance the reward-related learning processes underlying successful skill-learning in psychosocial interventions. Specifically, we review clinical and preclinical evidence and paradigms that can be utilized to develop these pharmacological augmentation strategies. Prototypes for this approach include dopamine D1 receptor and α7 nicotinic acetylcholine receptor agonists as attractive targets to specifically enhance reward-related learning during CR.

Conclusion: The approach outlined here could be used broadly to develop pharmacological augmentation strategies across a number of cognitive domains underlying successful psychosocial treatment.

Keywords: DRD1; augmentation; cognitive remediation; nAChR; schizophrenia.