Skip to main content

Thank you for visiting You are using a browser version with limited support for CSS. To obtain the best experience, we recommend you use a more up to date browser (or turn off compatibility mode in Internet Explorer). In the meantime, to ensure continued support, we are displaying the site without styles and JavaScript.

Evidence for striatal dopamine release during a video game


Dopaminergic neurotransmission may be involved in learning, reinforcement of behaviour, attention, and sensorimotor integration1,2. Binding of the radioligand 11C-labelled raclopride to dopamine D2 receptors is sensitive to levels of endogenous dopamine, which can be released by pharmacological challenge3,4,5,6,7,8. Here we use 11C-labelled raclopride and positron emission tomography scans to provide evidence that endogenous dopamine is released in the human striatum during a goal-directed motor task, namely a video game. Binding of raclopride to dopamine receptors in the striatum was significantly reduced during the video game compared with baseline levels of binding, consistent with increased release and binding of dopamine to its receptors. The reduction in binding of raclopride in the striatum positively correlated with the performance level during the task and was greatest in the ventral striatum. These results show, to our knowledge for the first time, behavioural conditions under which dopamine is released in humans, and illustrate the ability of positron emission tomography to detect neurotransmitter fluxes in vivo during manipulations of behaviour.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution

Relevant articles

Open Access articles citing this article.

Access options

Rent or buy this article

Prices vary by article type



Prices may be subject to local taxes which are calculated during checkout

Figure 1: Mean time–activity curves for [11C]RAC uptake, normalized for radioactivity injected, for the four striatal ROIs and the reference region (cerebellum).
Figure 2: Percentage change in [11C]RAC-binding potential between task and baseline conditions, plotted against performance level.
Figure 3: Regions of the brain in which there was a statistically significant correlation between reduced [11C]RAC-BP and task performance; such a correlation was more pronounced in the ventral striatum.


  1. Schultz, W., Apicella, P. & Ljungberg, T. Responses of monkey dopamine neurons to reward and conditioned stimuli during successive steps of learning a delayed response task. J. Neurosci. 13, 900–913 (1993).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  2. Robbins, T. W. & Everitt, B. J. Functions of dopamine in the dorsal and ventral striatum. Semin. Neurosci. 4, 119–127 (1992).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. Hume, S. P. et al. Quantitation of carbon-11 labelled raclopride in rat straitum using positron emission tomography. Synapse 12, 47–54 (1992).

    Article  ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  4. Laruelle, M. et al. Microdialysis and SPECT measurements of amphetamine-induced dopamine release in non human primates. Synapse 25, 1–14 (1997).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  5. Farde, L. et al. Positron emission tomography analysis of central D1and D2dopamine receptor occupancy in patients treated with classical neuroleptics and clozapine. Arch. Gen. Psychiatry 49, 538–544 (1992).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  6. Volkow, N. D. et al. Imaging endogenous dopamine competition with [11C]raclopride in the human brain. Synapse 16, 255–262 (1994).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  7. Dewey, S. L. et al. Effects of central cholinergic blockade on striatal dopamine release measured with positron emission tomography in normal human subjects. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 90, 11816–11820 (1993).

    Article  ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  8. Breier, A. et al. Schizophrenia is associated with elevated amphetamine induced synaptic dopamine concentrations: evidence from a novel positron emission tomography method. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 94, 2569–2574 (1997).

    Article  ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  9. Ljunberg, T. J., Apicella, P. & Schultz, W. Responses of monkey dopamine neurons during learning of behavioural reactions. J. Neurophysiol. 67, 145–163 (1992).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. Salamone, J. D., Cousins, M. S., McCullough, L. D., Carrier, O. D. L. & Berkovitz, R. J. Nucleus accumbens dopamine release increases during instrumental level pressing for food but not free food consumption. Pharmacol. Biochem. Behav. 49, 651–660 (1994).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. Richardson, N. R. & Gratton, A. Behaviour-relevant changes in nucleus accumbens dopamine transmission elicited by food reinforcement: an electrochemical study in rat. J. Neurosci. 16, 8160–8169 (1996).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  12. Fisher, R. E., Morris, E. D., Alpert, N. M. & Fischman, A. J. In-vivo imaging of neuromodulatory synaptic transmission using PET: a review of relevant neurophysiology. Hum. Brain Mapp. 3, 24–34 (1995).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  13. Morris, E. D., Fisher, R. E., Alpert, N. M., Rauch, S. L. & Fischman, A. J. In vivo imaging of neuromodulation using positron emission tomography: optimal ligand characteristics and task length for detection of activation. Hum. Brain Mapp. 3, 35–55 (1995).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  14. Graybiel, A. M., Aosaki, T., Flaherty, A. W. & Kimura, M. The basal ganglia and adaptive motor control. Science 265, 1826–1831 (1994).

    Article  ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  15. Schultz, W. Dopamine neurons and their role in reward mechanisms. Curr. Opin. Neurobiol. 7, 191–197 (1997).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  16. Brooks, D. J. The role of the basal ganglia in motor control: contributions from PET. J. Neurol. Sci. 128, 1–13 (1995).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  17. Volkow, N. D. et al. Reproducibility of repeated measures of [11C]raclopride binding in the human brain. J. Nucl. Med. 34, 609–613 (1993).

    CAS  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  18. Logan, J. et al. Effects of blood flow on [11C]raclopride binding in the brain: model simulations and kinetic analysis of PET data. J. Cereb. Blood Flow Metab. 14, 995–1010 (1994).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  19. Endres, C. J. et al. Kinetic modelling of [11C]raclopride: combined PET-microdialysis studies. J. Cereb. Blood Flow Metab. 9, 932–942 (1997).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  20. Yamamuro, Y., Hori, K., Iwano, H. & Nomura, M. The relationship between learning-performance and dopamine in the prefrontal cortex of the rat. Neurosci. Lett. 177, 83–86 (1993).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  21. Friston, K. J. et al. Statistical parametric maps in functional imaging: a general linear approach. Hum. Brain Mapp. 2, 189–210 (1995).

    Article  Google Scholar 

  22. Thierry, A. M., Tassin, J. P., Blanc, G. & Glowinski, J. Selective activation of the mesocortical dopaminergic system by stress. Nature 263, 242–244 (1976).

    Article  ADS  CAS  Google Scholar 

  23. Wise, R. A. The dopamine synapse and the notion of “pleasure centres” in the brain. Trends Neurosci. 3, 91–94 (1980).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  24. Gunn, R. N., Lammertsma, A. A., Hume, S. P. & Cunningham, V. J. Parametric imaging of ligand-receptor binding in PET using a simplified reference region model. Neuroimage 6, 279–287 (1997).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  25. Lammertsma, A. A. & Hume, S. P. Simplified reference tissue model for PET receptor studies. Neuroimage 4, 153–158 (1996).

    Article  CAS  Google Scholar 

  26. Ashburner, J., Haslam, J., Taylor, C., Cunningham, V. J. & Jones, T. in Quantification of Brain Function Using PET (eds Myers, R., Cunningham, V., Bailey, D. & Jones, T.) 301–306 (Academic, London, (1996)).

    Book  Google Scholar 

Download references


M.J.K. was supported by a grant from the Theodore and Vada Stanley Foundation Research Program; R.N.G., V.J.C., D.J.B. and P.M.G. were supported by the Medical Research Council; and A.D.L. was supported by a fellowship from the British Brain and Spine Foundation. We thank P. Dayan and L. Farde for discussions and comments on the manuscript; and K. Friston, A. Holmes and J.Ashburner for statistical advice and help with the SPM analysis.

Author information

Authors and Affiliations


Corresponding author

Correspondence to P. M. Grasby.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Koepp, M., Gunn, R., Lawrence, A. et al. Evidence for striatal dopamine release during a video game. Nature 393, 266–268 (1998).

Download citation

  • Received:

  • Accepted:

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI:

This article is cited by


By submitting a comment you agree to abide by our Terms and Community Guidelines. If you find something abusive or that does not comply with our terms or guidelines please flag it as inappropriate.


Quick links

Nature Briefing

Sign up for the Nature Briefing newsletter — what matters in science, free to your inbox daily.

Get the most important science stories of the day, free in your inbox. Sign up for Nature Briefing