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Dopaminergic medication increases reliance on current information in Parkinson’s disease


The neurotransmitter dopamine is crucial for decision-making under uncertainty, but its computational role is still a subject of intense debate. To test its potential roles, we invited patients with Parkinson’s disease (PD), who have less internally generated dopamine, to participate in a visual decision-making task in which uncertainty in both prior and current sensory information was varied. Behaviour during these tasks is often predicted by Bayesian statistics. We found that many aspects of uncertainty processing were conserved in PD patients: they could learn the prior uncertainty and utilize both prior and current sensory information. As predicted by prominent theories, we found that dopaminergic medication influenced the weight given to sensory information. However, as PD patients learned, this bias disappeared. In addition, throughout the experiment the patients exhibited lower sensitivity to current sensory uncertainty compared with age-matched controls. Our results provide empirical evidence for the idea that dopamine levels, which are affected by PD and the drugs used for its treatment, influence the reliance on new information.

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Figure 1: Experimental setup.
Figure 2: Relative weight given to current information (sensory weight).
Figure 3: Sensitivity to likelihood uncertainty, separated by population type.
Figure 4: Reaction to trial-by-trial changes in likelihood uncertainty.


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We thank D. Klein, L. Pickering, S. Toledo, C. López-Ortiz and especially T. Simuni for help in recruiting the PD patients. We also thank P. Dayan, H. Fernandes and M. Basso for useful comments on the manuscript. I.V. was supported by the Portuguese Science Foundation, the Gulbenkian Foundation and the Champalimaud Foundation (PhD fellowship SFRH/BD/33272/2007), and, more recently, by a Principal Research Fellowship from the Wellcome Trust to Professor Read Montague. This work was also supported by NIH grant 2R01NS063399 (to K.P.K.). The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish or preparation of the manuscript.

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Both authors designed the experiment. I.V. ran the experiments and analysed the data (with the supervision of K.P.K.). Both authors wrote the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Iris Vilares.

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The authors declare no competing interests.

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Supplementary Methods, Supplementary Table 1, Supplementary Figures 1–7, Supplementary Results, Supplementary References. (PDF 1348 kb)

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Vilares, I., Kording, K. Dopaminergic medication increases reliance on current information in Parkinson’s disease. Nat Hum Behav 1, 0129 (2017).

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