Dopamine Activation Preserves Visual Motion Perception Despite Noise Interference of Human V5/MT
Abou-El-Ela Bourquin, Bilal
Schultz, Simon R
Seemungal, Barry M
When processing sensory signals, the brain must account for noise, both noise in the stimulus and that arising from within its own neuronal circuitry. Dopamine receptor activation is known to enhance both visual cortical signal-to-noise-ratio (SNR) and visual perceptual performance; however, it is unknown whether these two dopamine-mediated phenomena are linked. To assess this, we used single-pulse transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) applied to visual cortical area V5/MT to reduce the SNR focally and thus disrupt visual motion discrimination performance to visual targets located in the same retinotopic space. The hypothesis that dopamine receptor activation enhances perceptual performance by improving cortical SNR predicts that dopamine activation should antagonize TMS disruption of visual perception. We assessed this hypothesis via a double-blinded, placebo-controlled study with the dopamine receptor agonists cabergoline (a D2 agonist) and pergolide (a D1/D2 agonist) administered in separate sessions (separated by 2 weeks) in 12 healthy volunteers in a William's balance-order design. TMS degraded visual motion perception when the evoked phosphene and the visual stimulus overlapped in time and space in the placebo and cabergoline conditions, but not in the pergolide condition. This suggests that dopamine D1 or combined D1 and D2 receptor activation enhances cortical SNR to boost perceptual performance. That local visual cortical excitability was unchanged across drug conditions suggests the involvement of long-range intracortical interactions in this D1 effect. Because increased internal noise (and thus lower SNR) can impair visual perceptual learning, improving visual cortical SNR via D1/D2 agonist therapy may be useful in boosting rehabilitation programs involving visual perceptual training.