Dopamine agonists and risk: impulse control disorders in Parkinson’s disease | European Parkinson’s Disease Association

Dopamine agonists and risk: impulse control disorders in Parkinson’s disease

Dopamine agonists and risk: impulse control disorders in Parkinson's disease

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Brain Volume 134 Number 05

May 2011
Voon V, Gao J, Brezing C, Symmonds M, Ekanayake V, Fernandez H, Dolan RJ, Hallett M


Impulse control disorders are common in Parkinson’s; disease, occurring in 13.6% of patients. Using a pharmacological manipulation and a novel risk taking task while performing functional magnetic resonance imaging, we investigated the relationship between dopamine agonists and risk taking in patients with Parkinson’s; disease with and without impulse control disorders.

During functional magnetic resonance imaging, subjects chose between two choices of equal expected value: a ‘Sure’ choice and a ‘Gamble’ choice of moderate risk. To commence each trial, in the ‘Gain’ condition, individuals started at $0 and in the ‘Loss’ condition individuals started at −$50 below the ‘Sure’ amount. The difference between the maximum and minimum outcomes from each gamble (i.e. range) was used as an index of risk (‘Gamble Risk’).

Sixteen healthy volunteers were behaviourally tested. Fourteen impulse control disorder (problem gambling or compulsive shopping) and 14 matched Parkinson’s; disease controls were tested ON and OFF dopamine agonists. Patients with impulse control disorder made more risky choices in the ‘Gain’ relative to the ‘Loss’ condition along with decreased orbitofrontal cortex and anterior cingulate activity, with the opposite observed in Parkinson’s; disease controls.

In patients with impulse control disorder, dopamine agonists were associated with enhanced sensitivity to risk along with decreased ventral striatal activity again with the opposite in Parkinson’s; disease controls. Patients with impulse control disorder appear to have a bias towards risky choices independent of the effect of loss aversion. Dopamine agonists enhance sensitivity to risk in patients with impulse control disorder possibly by impairing risk evaluation in the striatum.

Our results provide a potential explanation of why dopamine agonists may lead to an unconscious bias towards risk in susceptible individuals.

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