Ventral striatal dopamine reflects behavioral and neural signatures of model-based control during sequential decision making

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2015 Feb 3;112(5):1595-600. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1417219112. Epub 2015 Jan 20.


Dual system theories suggest that behavioral control is parsed between a deliberative "model-based" and a more reflexive "model-free" system. A balance of control exerted by these systems is thought to be related to dopamine neurotransmission. However, in the absence of direct measures of human dopamine, it remains unknown whether this reflects a quantitative relation with dopamine either in the striatum or other brain areas. Using a sequential decision task performed during functional magnetic resonance imaging, combined with striatal measures of dopamine using [(18)F]DOPA positron emission tomography, we show that higher presynaptic ventral striatal dopamine levels were associated with a behavioral bias toward more model-based control. Higher presynaptic dopamine in ventral striatum was associated with greater coding of model-based signatures in lateral prefrontal cortex and diminished coding of model-free prediction errors in ventral striatum. Thus, interindividual variability in ventral striatal presynaptic dopamine reflects a balance in the behavioral expression and the neural signatures of model-free and model-based control. Our data provide a novel perspective on how alterations in presynaptic dopamine levels might be accompanied by a disruption of behavioral control as observed in aging or neuropsychiatric diseases such as schizophrenia and addiction.

Keywords: PET; decision making; dopamine; fMRI; reinforcement learning.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Behavior*
  • Corpus Striatum / metabolism*
  • Decision Making*
  • Dopamine / metabolism*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Positron-Emission Tomography
  • Young Adult


  • Dopamine