Nonlinear Effects of Dopamine D1 Receptor Activation on Visuomotor Coordination Task Performance

Cereb Cortex. 2020 Sep 3;30(10):5346-5355. doi: 10.1093/cercor/bhaa116.


Dopamine plays an important role in the modulation of neuroplasticity, which serves as the physiological basis of cognition. The physiological effects of dopamine depend on receptor subtypes, and the D1 receptor is critically involved in learning and memory formation. Evidence from both animal and human studies shows a dose-dependent impact of D1 activity on performance. However, the direct association between physiology and behavior in humans remains unclear. In this study, four groups of healthy participants were recruited, and each group received placebo or medication inducing a low, medium, or high amount of D1 activation via the combination of levodopa and a D2 antagonist. After medication, fMRI was conducted during a visuomotor learning task. The behavioral results revealed an inverted U-shaped effect of D1 activation on task performance, where medium-dose D1 activation led to superior learning effects, as compared to placebo as well as low- and high-dose groups. A respective dose-dependent D1 modulation was also observed for cortical activity revealed by fMRI. Further analysis demonstrated a positive correlation between task performance and cortical activation at the left primary motor cortex. Our results indicate a nonlinear curve of D1 modulation on motor learning in humans and the respective physiological correlates in corresponding brain areas.

Keywords: D1; dopamine; fMRI; motor learning.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Brain / drug effects
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping
  • Dopamine Agents / administration & dosage
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Learning / drug effects
  • Learning / physiology
  • Levodopa / administration & dosage
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Psychomotor Performance / drug effects
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology*
  • Receptors, Dopamine D1 / agonists
  • Receptors, Dopamine D1 / physiology*
  • Young Adult


  • Dopamine Agents
  • Receptors, Dopamine D1
  • Levodopa