Amisulpride and l-DOPA modulate subcortical brain nuclei connectivity in resting-state pharmacologic magnetic resonance imaging

Hum Brain Mapp. 2020 May;41(7):1806-1818. doi: 10.1002/hbm.24913. Epub 2019 Dec 27.


The precise understanding of the dopaminergic (DA) system and its pharmacological modifications is crucial for diagnosis and treatment of neuropsychiatric disorders, as well as for understanding basic processes, such as motivation and reward. We probed the functional connectivity (FC) of subcortical nuclei related to the DA system according to seed regions defined according to an atlas of subcortical nuclei. We conducted a large pharmaco-fMRI study using a double-blind, placebo-controlled design, where we examined the effect of l -DOPA, a dopamine precursor, and amisulpride, a D2/D3-receptor antagonist on resting-state FC in 45 healthy young adults using a cross-over design. We examined the FC of subcortical nuclei with connection to the reward system and their reaction to opposing pharmacological probing. Amisulpride increased FC from the putamen to the precuneus and from ventral striatum to precentral gyrus. l -DOPA increased FC from the ventral tegmental area (VTA) to the insula/operculum and between ventral striatum and ventrolateral prefrontal cortex and it disrupted ventral striatal and dorsal caudate FC with the medial prefrontal cortex. In an exploratory analysis, we demonstrated that higher self-rated impulsivity goes together with a significant increase in VTA-mid-cingulate gyrus FC during l -DOPA-challenge. Therefore, our DA challenge modulated distinct large-scale subcortical connectivity networks. A dopamine-boost can increase midbrain DA nuclei connectivity to the cortex. The involvement of the VTA-cingulum connectivity in dependence of impulsivity has implications for diagnosis and therapy in disorders like ADHD.

Keywords: L-DOPA; amisulpride; dopamine; insula; pharmaco-fMRI; resting-state fMRI; ventral tegmental area.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Amisulpride / pharmacology*
  • Basal Ganglia / diagnostic imaging*
  • Basal Ganglia / drug effects*
  • Brain Mapping
  • Dopamine Agents / pharmacology*
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Female
  • Healthy Volunteers
  • Humans
  • Impulsive Behavior
  • Levodopa / pharmacology*
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Movement / drug effects
  • Neural Pathways / diagnostic imaging*
  • Neural Pathways / drug effects*
  • Rest
  • Ventral Tegmental Area / diagnostic imaging
  • Ventral Tegmental Area / drug effects
  • Young Adult


  • Dopamine Agents
  • Levodopa
  • Amisulpride