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Title: Contributions of COMT and DAT to regulation of phasic dopamine release and reward-guided behaviour
Author: Korn, Clio
ISNI:       0000 0004 6494 1563
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 2016
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Fine temporal regulation of dopamine transmission is critical to its effects on behaviour. Dopamine can be cleared from the synapse either by recycling via the dopamine transporter (DAT) or by enzymatic degradation involving catechol-O-methyltransferase (COMT). DAT recycling predominates in striatum and contributes to dopaminergic regulation of reward-guided behaviour, while COMT degradation predominates in cortex and modulates executive functions. However, human functional imaging studies demonstrate interactive effects of DAT and COMT genotype, suggesting that the traditional division between DAT and COMT is not so clear-cut. Given the interdependence of mesolimbic and mesocortical circuitry and the presence of COMT in the striatum, it is possible that DAT and COMT interact to a greater extent than previously thought. We investigated the contributions of DAT and COMT to regulation of dopamine transmission and reward-guided behaviour by combining in vivo electrochemical recording, pharmacology, and behavioural testing in mice. Using fast scan cyclic voltammetry to record evoked dopamine release in anaesthetised animals, we found that systemic DAT blockade increased the size of dopamine transients in the nucleus accumbens (NAc) but not in the medial frontal cortex (MFC), demonstrating that DAT regulates phasic striatal dopamine release and confirming that DAT makes little contribution to regulation of cortical dopamine transmission. Unexpectedly, COMT inhibition did not affect evoked dopamine transients in either the NAc or the MFC. In agreement with these findings, systemic administration of a DAT blocker, but not of a COMT inhibitor, increased motivation to work for reward in a progressive ratio paradigm. COMT inhibition also had little effect on reinforcement learning (RL) strategies during reward-guided decision making. Intriguingly, however, we found that DAT blockade both decreased the influence of model-free RL and increased the influence of model-based RL on behaviour. Our study confirms that DAT regulates dopamine transmission in striatum but not in cortex and indicates that sub-second changes in dopamine transmission in both regions are largely insensitive to COMT. However, our behavioural data reveal the importance of striatal dopamine in multiple components of reward-guided behaviour, including both motivational aspects traditionally associated with striatum as well as cognitive aspects heretofore mainly associated with cortical function. Together, these findings emphasise that reward processing occurs across corticostriatal circuits and contribute to our understanding of how striatal dopamine transmission regulates reward-guided behaviours.
Supervisor: Walton, Mark ; Tunbridge, Elizabeth Sponsor: Wellcome Trust
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: Experimental Psychology ; Psychiatry ; Neurosciences ; Dopamine ; Dopamine transporter ; Motivation ; Reinforcement Learning ; Decision making ; Prefrontal cortex ; Nucleus accumbens ; Catechol-O-methyltransferase