Giving older adults the dopamine precursor drug levodopa (L-DOPA) can reduce age related abnormalities in reward-based decision making, according to a study published online this week in Nature Neuroscience.
As some people age, their ability to use information about the likelihood of rewards to make decisions degrades. Rumana Chowdhury and colleagues showed that this change in decision-making was accompanied by changes in brain activity associated with reward expectations and connectivity between the brain areas that encode reward expectation signals. Some of the signals between these brain areas are carried by the neurotransmitter dopamine. The authors found that when they gave underperforming older human adults a dose of a drug that increases dopamine levels in the brain, their sensitivity to rewards improved.