In an attempt to resolve controversy regarding the causal contributions of mesolimbic dopamine (DA) systems to reward, we evaluate the three main competing explanatory categories: “liking,”“learning,” and “wanting” . That is, DA may mediate (a) the hedonic impact of reward (liking), (b) learned predictions about rewarding effects (learning), or (c) the pursuit of rewards by attributing incentive salience to reward-related stimuli (wanting). We evaluate these hypotheses, especially as they relate to the Reward Deficiency Syndrome (RDS), and we find that the incentive salience or “wanting” hypothesis of DA function is supported by a majority of the evidence. Neuroimaging studies have shown that drugs of abuse, palatable foods, and anticipated behaviors such as sex and gaming affect brain regions involving reward circuitry, and may not be unidirectional. Drugs of abuse enhance DA signaling and sensitize mesolimbic mechanisms that evolved to attribute incentive salience to rewards. Addictive drugs have in common that they are voluntarily selfadministered, they enhance (directly or indirectly) dopaminergic synaptic function in the nucleus accumbens (NAC), and they stimulate the functioning of brain reward circuitry (producing the “high” that drug users seek). Although originally believed simply to encode the set point of hedonic tone, these circuits now are believed to be functionally more complex, also encoding attention, reward expectancy, disconfirmation of reward expectancy, and incentive motivation. Elevated stress levels, together with polymorphisms of dopaminergic genes and other neurotransmitter genetic variants, may have a cumulative effect on vulnerability to addiction. The RDS model of etiology holds very well for a variety of chemical and behavioral addictions.
Keywords: Reward deficiency syndrome (RDS), neuroimaging, dopamine, “wanting” and “liking”, amygdala, corticotrophin, mesocorticolimbic, Rolandic operculum, mesolimbic, mu-opioid receptor
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