Dopaminergic modulation of hemodynamic signal variability and the functional connectome during cognitive performance

Neuroimage. 2018 May 15;172:341-356. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2018.01.048. Epub 2018 Feb 2.


Dopamine underlies important aspects of cognition, and has been suggested to boost cognitive performance. However, how dopamine modulates the large-scale cortical dynamics during cognitive performance has remained elusive. Using functional MRI during a working memory task in healthy young human listeners, we investigated the effect of levodopa (l-dopa) on two aspects of cortical dynamics, blood oxygen-level-dependent (BOLD) signal variability and the functional connectome of large-scale cortical networks. We here show that enhanced dopaminergic signaling modulates the two potentially interrelated aspects of large-scale cortical dynamics during cognitive performance, and the degree of these modulations is able to explain inter-individual differences in l-dopa-induced behavioral benefits. Relative to placebo, l-dopa increased BOLD signal variability in task-relevant temporal, inferior frontal, parietal and cingulate regions. On the connectome level, however, l-dopa diminished functional integration across temporal and cingulo-opercular regions. This hypo-integration was expressed as a reduction in network efficiency and modularity in more than two thirds of the participants and to different degrees. Hypo-integration co-occurred with relative hyper-connectivity in paracentral lobule and precuneus, as well as posterior putamen. Both, l-dopa-induced BOLD signal variability modulation and functional connectome modulations proved predictive of an individual's l-dopa-induced benefits in behavioral performance, namely response speed and perceptual sensitivity. Lastly, l-dopa-induced modulations of BOLD signal variability were correlated with l-dopa-induced modulation of nodal connectivity and network efficiency. Our findings underline the role of dopamine in maintaining the dynamic range of, and communication between, cortical systems, and their explanatory power for inter-individual differences in benefits from dopamine during cognitive performance.

Keywords: Auditory working memory; BOLD signal variability; Dopamine; Functional connectome; Graph theory; fMRI.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Brain / drug effects
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Cognition / drug effects
  • Cognition / physiology*
  • Connectome / methods*
  • Dopamine / metabolism*
  • Dopamine Agents / pharmacology
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Female
  • Hemodynamics
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted / methods
  • Levodopa / pharmacology
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods
  • Male


  • Dopamine Agents
  • Levodopa
  • Dopamine