Aberrant Salience Is Related to Reduced Reinforcement Learning Signals and Elevated Dopamine Synthesis Capacity in Healthy Adults

J Neurosci. 2015 Jul 15;35(28):10103-11. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.0805-15.2015.


The striatum is known to play a key role in reinforcement learning, specifically in the encoding of teaching signals such as reward prediction errors (RPEs). It has been proposed that aberrant salience attribution is associated with impaired coding of RPE and heightened dopamine turnover in the striatum, and might be linked to the development of psychotic symptoms. However, the relationship of aberrant salience attribution, RPE coding, and dopamine synthesis capacity has not been directly investigated. Here we assessed the association between a behavioral measure of aberrant salience attribution, the salience attribution test, to neural correlates of RPEs measured via functional magnetic resonance imaging while healthy participants (n = 58) performed an instrumental learning task. A subset of participants (n = 27) also underwent positron emission tomography with the radiotracer [(18)F]fluoro-l-DOPA to quantify striatal presynaptic dopamine synthesis capacity. Individual variability in aberrant salience measures related negatively to ventral striatal and prefrontal RPE signals and in an exploratory analysis was found to be positively associated with ventral striatal presynaptic dopamine levels. These data provide the first evidence for a specific link between the constructs of aberrant salience attribution, reduced RPE processing, and potentially increased presynaptic dopamine function.

Keywords: aberrant salience; dopamine; orbitofrontal cortex; prediction error; reinforcement learning; ventral striatum.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Conditioning, Operant
  • Corpus Striatum / blood supply
  • Corpus Striatum / diagnostic imaging
  • Corpus Striatum / metabolism*
  • Dopamine / metabolism*
  • Dopamine Agents
  • Female
  • Fluorodeoxyglucose F18
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted
  • Levodopa
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Oxygen / blood
  • Positron-Emission Tomography
  • Prodromal Symptoms*
  • Psychotic Disorders / diagnosis*
  • Psychotic Disorders / diagnostic imaging
  • Psychotic Disorders / physiopathology
  • Reaction Time
  • Reinforcement, Psychology*
  • Young Adult


  • Dopamine Agents
  • Fluorodeoxyglucose F18
  • Levodopa
  • Oxygen
  • Dopamine