Risk-taking behavior: Dopamine D2/D3 receptors, feedback, and frontolimbic activity

Milky Kohno, Dara G. Ghahremani, Angelica M. Morales, Chelsea L. Robertson, Kenji Ishibashi, Andrew T. Morgan, Mark A. Mandelkern, Edythe D. London

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

74 Scopus citations


Decision-making involves frontolimbic and dopaminergic brain regions, but how prior choice outcomes, dopamine neurotransmission, and frontostriatal activity are integrated to affect choices is unclear. We tested 60 healthy volunteers using the Balloon Analogue Risk Task (BART) during functional magnetic resonance imaging. In the BART, participants can pump virtual balloons to increase potential monetary reward or cash out to receive accumulated reward; each pump presents greater risk and potential reward (represented by the pump number). In a separate session, we measured striatal D2/D3 dopamine receptor binding potential (BPND) with positron emission tomography in 13 of the participants. Losses were followed by fewer risky choices than wins; and during risk-taking after loss, amygdala and hippocampal activation exhibited greater modulation by pump number than after a cash-out event. Striatal D2/D3 BPND was positively related to the modulation of ventral striatal activation when participants decided to cash out and negatively to the number of pumps in the subsequent trial; but negatively related to the modulation of prefrontal cortical activation by pump number when participants took risk, and to overall earnings. These findings provide in vivo evidence for a potential mechanism by which dopaminergic neurotransmission may modulate risk-taking behavior through an interactive system of frontal and striatal activity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)236-245
Number of pages10
JournalCerebral Cortex
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • Decision-making
  • Dopamine receptors
  • FMRI
  • Pet
  • Risk-taking
  • Striatum

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience


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