Dopamine and training-related working-memory improvement
Lars Bäckmana, Lars Nybergb
Converging evidence indicates that the neurotransmitter dopamine (DA) is implicated in working-memory (WM) functioning and that WM is trainable. We review recent work suggesting that DA is critically involved in the ability to benefit from WM interventions. Functional MRI studies reveal increased striatal BOLD activity following certain forms of WM interventions, such as updating training. Increased striatal BOLD activity has also been linked to transfer of learning to non-trained WM tasks, suggesting a neural signature of transfer. The striatal BOLD signal is partly determined by DA activity. Consistent with this assertion, PET research demonstrates increased striatal DA release during updating of information in WM after training. Genetic studies indicate larger increases in WM performance post training for those who carry advantageous alleles of DA-relevant genes. These patterns of results corroborate the role of DA in WM improvement. Future research avenues include: (a) neuromodulatory correlates of transfer; (b) the potential of WM training to enhance DA release in older adults; (c) comparisons among different WM processes (i.e., updating, switching, inhibition) regarding regional patterns of training-related DA release; and (d) gene–gene interactions in relation to training-related WM gains.