Dopaminergic drug treatment remediates exaggerated cingulate prediction error responses in obsessive-compulsive disorder

Graham Murray, Franziska Knolle, Karen D Ersche, Kevin J Craig, Sanja Abbott, Shaila S Shabbir, Naomi Fineberg, John Suckling, Barbara J. Sahakian, Edward T. Bullmore, Trevor W. Robbins

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

12 Citations (Scopus)
34 Downloads (Pure)


Rationale: Patients with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) have been found to show exaggerated error responses and prediction error learning signals in a variety of EEG and fMRI tasks, with data converging on the anterior cingulate cortex as a key locus of dysfunction. Considerable evidence has linked prediction error processing to dopaminergic function. Objective: In this study, we investigate potential dopaminergic dysfunction during reward processing in the context of OCD. Methods: We studied OCD patients (n = 18) and controls (n = 18) whilst they learned probabilistic associations between abstract stimuli and monetary rewards in the fMRI scanner involving administration (on separate visits) of a dopamine receptor agonist, pramipexole 0.5 mg; a dopamine receptor antagonist, amisulpride 400 mg; and placebo. We fitted a Q-learning computational model to fMRI prediction error responses; group differences were examined in anterior cingulate and nucleus accumbens regions of interest. Results: There were no significant group, drug, or interaction effects in the number of correct choices; computational modeling suggested a marginally significant difference in learning rates between groups (p = 0.089, partial ƞ 2 = 0.1). In the imaging results, there was a significant interaction of group by drug (p = 0.013, partial ƞ 2 = 0.13). OCD patients showed abnormally strong cingulate signaling of prediction errors during omission of an expected reward, with unexpected reduction by both pramipexole and amisulpride (p = 0.014, partial ƞ 2 = 0.26, 1-β error probability = 0.94). Exaggerated cingulate prediction error signaling to omitted reward in placebo was related to trait subjective difficulty in self-regulating behavior in OCD. Conclusions: Our data support cingulate dysfunction during reward processing in OCD, and bidirectional remediation by dopaminergic modulation, suggesting that exaggerated cingulate error signals in OCD may be of dopaminergic origin. The results help to illuminate the mechanisms through which dopamine receptor antagonists achieve therapeutic benefit in OCD. Further research is needed to disentangle the different functions of dopamine receptor agonists and antagonists during bidirectional modulation of cingulate activation.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2325-2336
Number of pages12
Issue number8
Early online date14 Jun 2019
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2019


  • Amisulpride
  • Anterior cingulate
  • Computational model
  • Nucleus accumbens
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • Pramipexole
  • Prediction error
  • Reward learning


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