RDoC in action: Examining the role of dopamine on cognitive control performance across multiple units of analysis

Genevieve P. Nowicki, B.S.

McLean Hospital
RDoC in action: Examining the role of dopamine on cognitive control performance across multiple units of analysis

Scientific Abstract


Background: The Research Domain Criteria (RDoC) was launched to encourage transdiagnostic research in psychiatry using multiple units of analysis. Research has implicated dopamine (DA) in cognitive control, which is impaired across disorders. Here, a DA modulator, modafinil (MOD) or methylphenidate (MPH), was administered and relationships among self-report, behavioral, and event-related potential (ERP) indices of cognitive control were examined.

Methods: One of two DA transporter inhibitors, MOD or MPH, was given to healthy participants at three doses: placebo, low, and high (MOD: N=26; MPH: N=13). After each dose, participants completed a modified Eriksen Flanker task probing the error-related negativity (ERN), an ERP index of cognitive control. Additionally, the Gratton Effect – a behavioral effect characterized by faster and more accurate responses to incongruent trials following an incongruent trial – and eye blink rate (EBR), which index cognitive control and DA activity, respectively, were measured. Self-reported executive function (EF) was assessed with the Behavior Rating Inventory of Executive Function (BRIEF) and Attentional Control Scale (ACS) before medication was administered.

Results: Significant correlations were found following only certain doses of MOD. The Gratton effect on accuracy was correlated with EBR following high-dose MOD, r(24)=.47, p=.01, and with ERN amplitude following low-dose MOD, r(24)= -.41, p=.04. Data collection with MPH is ongoing, and we plan to use the MPH study as an independent replication sample. Specifically, we expect similar MPH dose-specific correlations to emerge. Higher self-reported trait EF is expected to correlate positively with EBR and the Gratton effect across doses.

Conclusion: If replicated with MPH, the existence of dose-dependent correlations between more adaptive behavioral adjustments, higher individual DA levels, and improved cognitive control suggests that DA may differentially moderate these variables. Moreover, this study examines different DA conditions that may influence correlations between self-reported trait EF and state behavioral and physiological indices of cognitive control.

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research Areas


Genevieve P. Nowicki, B.S., Hans S. Schroder, PhD, Steven J. Lamontagne, MSc, Rachel Lobien, B.A., Samantha R. Linton, PhD, Micah Breiger, B.S., Diego A. Pizzagalli, PhD

Principal Investigator

Diego A. Pizzagalli, PhD

Affiliated Website