Intrinsically regulated learning is modulated by synaptic dopamine signaling

Elife. 2018 Aug 30:7:e38113. doi: 10.7554/eLife.38113.


We recently provided evidence that an intrinsic reward-related signal-triggered by successful learning in absence of any external feedback-modulated the entrance of new information into long-term memory via the activation of the dopaminergic midbrain, hippocampus, and ventral striatum (the SN/VTA-Hippocampal loop; Ripollés et al., 2016). Here, we used a double-blind, within-subject randomized pharmacological intervention to test whether this learning process is indeed dopamine-dependent. A group of healthy individuals completed three behavioral sessions of a language-learning task after the intake of different pharmacological treatments: a dopaminergic precursor, a dopamine receptor antagonist or a placebo. Results show that the pharmacological intervention modulated behavioral measures of both learning and pleasantness, inducing memory benefits after 24 hr only for those participants with a high sensitivity to reward. These results provide causal evidence for a dopamine-dependent mechanism instrumental in intrinsically regulated learning and further suggest that subject-specific reward sensitivity drastically alters learning success.

Keywords: dopamine; human; language; learning; memory; neuroscience; reward; word learning.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Carbidopa / pharmacology
  • Dopamine / metabolism*
  • Dopamine Agents / pharmacology
  • Dopamine Antagonists / pharmacology
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Learning / drug effects
  • Learning / physiology*
  • Levodopa / pharmacology
  • Male
  • Memory, Long-Term / drug effects
  • Memory, Long-Term / physiology
  • Reward
  • Risperidone / pharmacology
  • Signal Transduction / drug effects
  • Signal Transduction / physiology*
  • Synaptic Transmission / physiology*
  • Young Adult


  • Dopamine Agents
  • Dopamine Antagonists
  • Levodopa
  • Risperidone
  • Carbidopa
  • Dopamine