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Catecholaminergic modulation of meta-learning

  1. Jennifer L Cook  Is a corresponding author
  2. Jennifer C Swart
  3. Monja I Froböse
  4. Andreea Oliviana Diaconescu
  5. Dirk EM Geurts
  6. Hanneke EM den Ouden
  7. Roshan Cools
  1. University of Birmingham, United Kingdom
  2. Radboud University Nijmegen, Netherlands
  3. University of Basel, Switzerland
Research Article
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Cite this article as: eLife 2019;8:e51439 doi: 10.7554/eLife.51439

Abstract

The remarkable expedience of human learning is thought to be underpinned by meta-learning, whereby slow accumulative learning processes are rapidly adjusted to the current learning environment. To date, the neurobiological implementation of meta-learning remains unclear. A burgeoning literature argues for an important role for the catecholamines dopamine and noradrenaline in meta-learning. Here we tested the hypothesis that enhancing catecholamine function modulates the ability to optimise a meta-learning parameter (learning rate) as a function of environmental volatility. 102 participants completed a task which required learning in stable phases, where the probability of reinforcement was constant, and volatile phases, where probabilities changed every 10-30 trials. The catecholamine transporter blocker methylphenidate enhanced participants' ability to adapt learning rate: Under methylphenidate, compared with placebo, participants exhibited higher learning rates in volatile relative to stable phases. Furthermore, this effect was significant only with respect to direct learning based on the participants' own experience, there was no significant effect on inferred-value learning where stimulus values had to be inferred. These data demonstrate a causal link between catecholaminergic modulation and the adjustment of the meta-learning parameter learning rate.

Article and author information

Author details

  1. Jennifer L Cook

    School of Psychology, University of Birmingham, Birmingham, United Kingdom
    For correspondence
    j.l.cook@bham.ac.uk
    Competing interests
    No competing interests declared.
    ORCID icon "This ORCID iD identifies the author of this article:" 0000-0003-4916-8667
  2. Jennifer C Swart

    Donders Institute, Centre for Cognitive Neuroimaging, Radboud University Nijmegen, Nijmegen, Netherlands
    Competing interests
    No competing interests declared.
    ORCID icon "This ORCID iD identifies the author of this article:" 0000-0003-0989-332X
  3. Monja I Froböse

    Donders Institute, Centre for Cognitive Neuroimaging, Radboud University Nijmegen, Nijmegen, Netherlands
    Competing interests
    No competing interests declared.
  4. Andreea Oliviana Diaconescu

    Department of Psychiatry, University of Basel, Basel, Switzerland
    Competing interests
    No competing interests declared.
    ORCID icon "This ORCID iD identifies the author of this article:" 0000-0002-3633-9757
  5. Dirk EM Geurts

    Donders Institute, Centre for Cognitive Neuroimaging, Radboud University Nijmegen, Nijmegen, Netherlands
    Competing interests
    No competing interests declared.
  6. Hanneke EM den Ouden

    Donders Institute, Centre for Cognitive Neuroimaging, Radboud University Nijmegen, Nijmegen, Netherlands
    Competing interests
    Hanneke EM den Ouden, has acted as consultant for Eleusis benefit corps but does not own shares. Eleusis have no involvement in this study.
  7. Roshan Cools

    Donders Institute, Centre for Cognitive Neuroimaging, Radboud University Nijmegen, Nijmegen, Netherlands
    Competing interests
    Roshan Cools, has acted as a consultant for Pfizer and Abbvie but does not own shares. Pfizer and Abbvie have no involvement in this study.

Funding

H2020 European Research Council (ERC Starting Grant 757583)

  • Jennifer L Cook

Nederlandse Organisatie voor Wetenschappelijk Onderzoek (Research talent grant 406-14-028)

  • Jennifer C Swart

University of Birmingham (Birmingham Fellows Programme)

  • Jennifer L Cook

ZonMw (92003576)

  • Dirk EM Geurts

James S. McDonnell Foundation (James McDonnell scholar award)

  • Roshan Cools

Nederlandse Organisatie voor Wetenschappelijk Onderzoek (Vici Award 53-14-005)

  • Roshan Cools

Nederlandse Organisatie voor Wetenschappelijk Onderzoek (Veni Grant 451-11-004)

  • Hanneke EM den Ouden

Swiss National Foundation (PZ00P3_167952)

  • Andreea Oliviana Diaconescu

The funders had no role in study design, data collection and interpretation, or the decision to submit the work for publication.

Ethics

Human subjects: Human subjects: Informed consent, and consent to publish, was obtained prior to participation. The study was in line with the local ethical guidelines approved by the local ethics committee (CMO / METC Arnhem Nijmegen: protocol NL47166.091.13), pre-registered (trial register NTR4653, http://www.trialregister.nl/trialreg/admin/rctview.asp?TC=4653), and in accordance with the Helsinki Declaration of 1975.

Reviewing Editor

  1. Daeyeol Lee, Johns Hopkins University, United States

Publication history

  1. Received: August 28, 2019
  2. Accepted: December 18, 2019
  3. Accepted Manuscript published: December 18, 2019 (version 1)

Copyright

© 2019, Cook et al.

This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License permitting unrestricted use and redistribution provided that the original author and source are credited.

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