Dopamine D2-like receptor activation wipes out preferential consolidation of high over low reward memories during human sleep

J Cogn Neurosci. 2014 Oct;26(10):2310-20. doi: 10.1162/jocn_a_00629. Epub 2014 Mar 26.


Memory formation is a selective process in which reward contingencies determine which memory is maintained and which is forgotten. Sleep plays a pivotal role in maintaining information for the long term and has been shown to specifically benefit memories that are associated with reward. Key to memory consolidation during sleep is a neuronal reactivation of newly encoded representations. However, it is unclear whether preferential consolidation of memories associated with reward requires the reactivation of dopaminergic circuitry known to mediate reward effects at encoding. In a placebo-controlled, double-blind, balanced crossover experiment, we show that the dopamine D2-like receptor agonist pramipexole given during sleep wipes out reward contingencies. Before sleep, 16 men learned 160 pictures of landscapes and interiors that were associated with high or low rewards, if they were identified between new stimuli at retrieval 24 hr later. In the placebo condition, the participants retained significantly more pictures that promised a high reward. In the pramipexole condition, this difference was wiped out, and performance for the low reward pictures was as high as that for high reward pictures. Pramipexole did not generally enhance memory consolidation probably because of the fact that the dopaminergic agonist concurrently suppressed both SWS and REM sleep. These results are consistent with the concept that preferential consolidation of reward-associated memories relies on hippocampus-driven reactivation within the dopaminergic reward system during sleep, whereby during sleep reward contingencies are fed back to the hippocampus to strengthen specific memories, possibly, through dopaminergic facilitation of long-term potentiation.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Arousal / drug effects
  • Benzothiazoles / pharmacology
  • Cross-Over Studies
  • Dopamine Agonists / pharmacology
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Female
  • Growth Hormone / blood
  • Humans
  • Hydrocortisone / blood
  • Learning / drug effects
  • Learning / physiology
  • Male
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Pramipexole
  • Receptors, Dopamine D2 / agonists
  • Receptors, Dopamine D2 / metabolism*
  • Recognition, Psychology / drug effects
  • Recognition, Psychology / physiology*
  • Retention, Psychology / drug effects
  • Retention, Psychology / physiology*
  • Reward*
  • Sleep / drug effects
  • Sleep / physiology*
  • Time Factors
  • Young Adult


  • Benzothiazoles
  • Dopamine Agonists
  • Receptors, Dopamine D2
  • Pramipexole
  • Growth Hormone
  • Hydrocortisone