2006 Oct;188(2):228-35.

Sevy S1, Hassoun Y, Bechara A, Yechiam E, Napolitano B, Burdick K, Delman H, Malhotra A.

Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Yeshiva University, Bronx, and Psychiatry Research Department , The Zucker Hillside Hospital, Glen Oaks, NY, USA. sevy@lij.edu



Converging evidences from animal and human studies suggest that addiction is associated with dopaminergicdysfunction in brain reward circuits. So far, it is unclear what aspects of addictive behaviors are related to a dopaminergic dysfunction.


We hypothesize that a decrease in dopaminergic activity impairs emotion-based decision-making. To demonstrate this hypothesis, we investigated the effects of a decrease in dopaminergic activity on the performance of an emotion-based decision-making task, the Iowa gambling task (IGT), in 11 healthy human subjects.


We used a double-blind, placebo-controlled, within-subject design to examine the effect of a mixture containing the branched-chain amino acids (BCAA) valine, isoleucine and leucine on prolactin, IGT performance, perceptual competency and visual aspects of visuospatial working memory, visual attention and working memory, and verbal memory. The expectancy-valence model was used to determine the relative contributions of distinct IGT components (attention to past outcomes, relative weight of wins and losses, and choice strategies) in the decision-making process.


Compared to placebo, the BCAA mixture increased prolactin levels and impaired IGT performance. BCAA administration interfered with a particular component process of decision-making related to attention to more recent events as compared to more distant events. There were no differences between placebo and BCAA conditions for other aspects of cognition. Our results suggest a direct link between a reduced dopaminergic activity and poor emotion-based decision-making characterized by shortsightedness, and thus difficulties resisting short-term reward, despite long-term negative consequences. These findings have implications for behavioral and pharmacological interventions targeting impaired emotion-based decision-making in addictive disorders.