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Baseline impulsivity may moderate L-DOPA effects on value-based decision-making.


Research has indicated a major role of dopamine in decision-making processes, but the underlying mechanisms remain largely unknown due to inconsistency in effects of dopaminergic drugs. To clarify the impact of dopamine on impulsive choice, we administered 150 mg L-DOPA to 87 healthy adults in a randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind, crossover study, evaluating performance in four value-based decision-making tasks. We predicted that baseline impulsivity would moderate L-DOPA effects. In support of our hypothesis, L-DOPA had no main effect on impulsive choice, but reduced risk-seeking for gains in more-impulsive subjects. Because L-DOPA effects may be influenced by body weight, we repeated our analyses on data from half of the sample (n = 44) with lower weight, anticipating a stronger effect. In addition to the effect on risk-seeking for gains, low-weight participants also exhibited baseline-dependent effects of L-DOPA on loss aversion and delay discounting. Our results are consistent with the hypothesis of an inverted U-shaped dopamine function in which both low and high extremes of dopamine signaling are associated with high-impulsive choice. Consideration of differential baseline impulsivity and body weight may resolve previous seemingly paradoxical pharmacological results and might deepen our understanding of dopaminergic mechanisms underlying impulsivity.

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