Distinct roles for dopamine clearance mechanisms in regulating behavioral flexibility

Clio Korn, Thomas Akam, Kristian H R Jensen, Cristiana Vagnoni, Anna Huber, Elizabeth M Tunbridge, Mark E Walton


Dopamine plays a crucial role in adaptive behavior, and dysfunctional dopamine is implicated in multiple psychiatric conditions characterized by inflexible or inconsistent choices. However, the precise relationship between dopamine and flexible decision making remains unclear. One reason is that, while many studies have focused on the activity of dopamine neurons, efficient dopamine signaling also relies on clearance mechanisms, notably the dopamine transporter (DAT), which predominates in striatum, and catechol-O-methyltransferase (COMT), which predominates in cortex. The exact locus, extent, and timescale of the effects of DAT and COMT are uncertain. Moreover, there is limited data on how acute disruption of either mechanism affects flexible decision making strategies mediated by cortico-striatal networks. To address these issues, we combined pharmacological modulation of DAT and COMT with electrochemistry and behavior in mice. DAT blockade, but not COMT inhibition, regulated sub-second dopamine release in the nucleus accumbens core, but surprisingly neither clearance mechanism affected evoked release in prelimbic cortex. This was not due to a lack of sensitivity, as both amphetamine and atomoxetine changed the kinetics of sub-second release. In a multi-step decision making task where mice had to respond to reversals in either reward probabilities or the choice sequence to reach the goal, DAT blockade selectively impaired, and COMT inhibition improved, performance after reward reversals, but neither manipulation affected the adaptation of choices after action-state transition reversals. Together, our data suggest that DAT and COMT shape specific aspects of behavioral flexibility by regulating different aspects of the kinetics of striatal and cortical dopamine, respectively.

Original languageEnglish
JournalMolecular Psychiatry
Issue number12
Pages (from-to)7188-7199
Number of pages12
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • Animals
  • Catechol O-Methyltransferase/genetics
  • Corpus Striatum/metabolism
  • Dopamine
  • Dopamine Plasma Membrane Transport Proteins/metabolism
  • Kinetics
  • Mice
  • Nucleus Accumbens/metabolism


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