"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."

Margaret Mead
Research Article

Altered brain activation in a reversal learning task unmasks adaptive changes in cognitive control in writer's cramp


Previous receptor binding studies suggest dopamine function is altered in the basal ganglia circuitry in task-specific dystonia, a condition characterized by contraction of agonist and antagonist muscles while performing specific tasks. Dopamine plays a role in reward-based learning.Using fMRI, this study compared 31 right-handed writer's cramp patients to 35 controls in reward-based learning of a probabilistic reversal-learning task. All subjects chose between two stimuli and indicated their response with their left or right index finger. One stimulus response was rewarded 80%, the other 20%. After contingencies reversal, the second stimulus response was rewarded in 80%. We further linked the DRD2/ANKK1-TaqIa polymorphism, which is associated with 30% reduction of the striatal dopamine receptor density with reward-based learning and assumed impaired reversal learning in A + subjects.Feedback learning in patients was normal. Blood-oxygen level dependent (BOLD) signal in controls increased with negative feedback in the insula, rostral cingulate cortex, middle frontal gyrus and parietal cortex (pFWE < 0.05). In comparison to controls, patients showed greater increase in BOLD activity following negative feedback in the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex (BA32). The genetic status was not correlated with the BOLD activity.The Brodmann area 32 (BA32) is part of the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex (dACC) that plays an important role in coordinating and integrating information to guide behavior and in reward-based learning. The dACC is connected with the basal ganglia-thalamo-loop modulated by dopaminergic signaling. This finding suggests disturbed integration of reinforcement history in decision making and implicate that the reward system might contribute to the pathogenesis in writer's cramp.Graphical abstractHighlights•What is the impact of abnormal dopamine signaling on decision making in task specific dystonia?•We studied the neural response in a reinforcement context using fMRI in 31 writer's cramp patients compared to 35 controls.•Patients showed specific increased response after negative feedback in middle ACC (BA 32)•This finding demonstrated disturbed integration of reinforcement history in a task specific dystonia.•The reward system might contribute to the pathogenesis in writer’s cramp