Department of Medical Psychology, University Medical Centre Nijmegen, P.O. Box 9101, 6500 HB, Nijmegen, The Netherlands. H.Berger@neuro.umcn.nl
Patients with Parkinson's disease (PD) have difficulty in processing learning tasks that lack external guidelines and, consequently, necessitate the subjects to generate their own problem-solving strategy. While the contribution of striatal dopaminergic deficiency to PD-specific motor symptoms is well established, its role in the PD-characteristic deviant learning style remains unclear. The aim of this study was to assess the relation between striatal dopamine activity as revealed by single photon emission computed tomography (SPECT) with (123)I-FP-CIT, a ligand for the dopamine transporter (DaT), and type of learning strategy, as identified by the California Verbal Learning Task (CVLT) in 19 patients with probable PD. The results showed a robust inverse correlation between striatal dopamine DaT binding and the externally guided, serial learning strategy: the lower the DaT in caudate nucleus as well as in putamen, the more the patient group appeared to rely on externally structured learning. Additionally, a significant positive correlation was found between caudatal DaT activity and the internally generated, semantic learning strategy. Unlike these strategic learning characteristics, IQ equivalent and recall total score appeared to vary independently from striatal DaT availability.our findings provide direct evidence that striatal dopaminergic activity is specifically involved in the regulation of strategic learning processes.