About this Research Topic
Dopamine has been associated with many functions critical to adaptive behavior, including regulating synaptic plasticity, signaling the outcomes of behavior, reinforcement learning, regulating appetitive motivation, modulating energy and activity levels, gating short-term memory and facilitating movement, to name a few. In research and theories of dopamine, however, a distinction is rarely made between its role in the initial acquisition and expression of a behavior and its role in modifying an established behavior. For example, though dopamine is widely believed to modulate corticostriatal plasticity and play a crucial role in motor, habit and procedural learning, the role that dopamine may play in modifying an established behavior or skill, particularly once habitual or automatic, has received little attention. Similarly, though dopamine has been associated with appetitive motivation and reinforcement learning, much of this work has focused on the contribution of dopamine to the development and maintenance of maladaptive, inflexible behaviors, such as in addiction, with less attention to how dopamine may contribute to changing those behaviors.
Dopamine has been associated with both acquiring and promoting learned behaviors. When an established behavior needs to be modified, however, these two aspects of dopamine seem to be at odds: facilitating new learning and modifying established behaviors on one hand, while promoting prior learning on the other. How are these two aspects of dopamine, inherently contradictory, reconciled?
We start from the premise that a crucial, highly conserved neurotransmitter system integral to multiple critical functions, from motivation to movement, likely evolved through a selection process that favored flexible adaptation to changing environments and conditions. For this special topic, then, we would like to see original research articles, reviews and theory/hypothesis manuscripts that highlight and explore the role of dopamine in mediating behavioral flexibility, defined here as the mechanisms that underlie the modification of established behaviors and skills rather than initial acquisition. We welcome manuscripts across a range of methods and perspectives, including human and animal studies using electrophysiological, behavioral, pharmacological, computational and human imaging methods. We particularly encourage manuscripts that adopt a developmental perspective and consider how changes in the dopamine system across the lifespan may contribute to differences in behavioral flexibility during different stages of life.
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