Spontaneous eye blink rate and dopamine synthesis capacity: preliminary evidence for an absence of positive correlation

Eur J Neurosci. 2018 May;47(9):1081-1086. doi: 10.1111/ejn.13895. Epub 2018 Mar 26.


Dopamine is central to a number of cognitive functions and brain disorders. Given the cost of neurochemical imaging in humans, behavioural proxy measures of dopamine have gained in popularity in the past decade, such as spontaneous eye blink rate (sEBR). Increased sEBR is commonly associated with increased dopamine function based on pharmacological evidence and patient studies. Yet, this hypothesis has not been validated using in vivo measures of dopamine function in humans. To fill this gap, we measured sEBR and striatal dopamine synthesis capacity using [18 F]DOPA PET in 20 participants (nine healthy individuals and 11 pathological gamblers). Our results, based on frequentist and Bayesian statistics, as well as region-of-interest and voxel-wise analyses, argue against a positive relationship between sEBR and striatal dopamine synthesis capacity. They show that, if anything, the evidence is in favour of a negative relationship. These results, which complement findings from a recent study that failed to observe a relationship between sEBR and dopamine D2 receptor availability, suggest that caution and nuance are warranted when interpreting sEBR in terms of a proxy measure of striatal dopamine.

Keywords: PET; [18F]DOPA; dopamine; eye blink rate; proxy measure.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Blinking / physiology*
  • Corpus Striatum / metabolism*
  • Dopamine / metabolism*
  • Eye / metabolism
  • Gambling / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Positron-Emission Tomography / methods
  • Receptors, Dopamine D2 / metabolism*


  • Receptors, Dopamine D2
  • Dopamine

Associated data

  • figshare/10.6084/m9.figshare.5878777