Pavlovian biases influence instrumental learning by coupling reward seeking with action invigoration and punishment avoidance with action suppression. Using a probabilistic go/no-go task designed to orthogonalize action (go/no-go) and valence (reward/punishment), recent studies have shown that the interaction between the two is dependent on the striatum and its key neuromodulator dopamine. Using this task, we sought to identify how structural and neuromodulatory age-related differences in the striatum may influence Pavlovian biases and instrumental learning in 25 young and 31 older adults. Computational modeling revealed a significant age-related reduction in reward and punishment sensitivity and marked (albeit not significant) reduction in learning rate and lapse rate (irreducible noise). Voxel-based morphometry analysis using 7 Tesla MRI images showed that individual differences in learning rate in older adults were related to the volume of the caudate nucleus. In contrast, dopamine synthesis capacity in the dorsal striatum, assessed using [18F]-DOPA positron emission tomography in 22 of these older adults, was not associated with learning performance and did not moderate the relationship between caudate volume and learning rate. This multiparametric approach suggests that age-related differences in striatal volume may influence learning proficiency in old age.
Keywords: 7 T structural MRI; aging; dopamine; instrumental learning; striatum.
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