Dopamine replacement therapy, learning and reward prediction in Parkinson’s disease: Implications for rehabilitation

Davide Ferrazzoli, Adrian Carter, Fatma S. Ustun, Grazia Palamara, Paola Ortelli, Roberto Maestri, Murat Yücel, Giuseppe Frazzitta

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


The principal feature of Parkinson’s disease (PD) is the impaired ability to acquire and express habitual-automatic actions due to the loss of dopamine in the dorsolateral striatum, the region of the basal ganglia associated with the control of habitual behavior. Dopamine replacement therapy (DRT) compensates for the lack of dopamine, representing the standard treatment for different motor symptoms of PD (such as rigidity, bradykinesia and resting tremor). On the other hand, rehabilitation treatments, exploiting the use of cognitive strategies, feedbacks and external cues, permit to “learn to bypass” the defective basal ganglia (using the dorsolateral area of the prefrontal cortex) allowing the patients to perform correct movements under executive-volitional control. Therefore, DRT and rehabilitation seem to be two complementary and synergistic approaches. Learning and reward are central in rehabilitation: both of these mechanisms are the basis for the success of any rehabilitative treatment. Anyway, it is known that “learning resources” and reward could be negatively influenced from dopaminergic drugs. Furthermore, DRT causes different well-known complications: among these, dyskinesias, motor fluctuations, and dopamine dysregulation syndrome (DDS) are intimately linked with the alteration in the learning and reward mechanisms and could impact seriously on the rehabilitative outcomes. These considerations highlight the need for careful titration of DRT to produce the desired improvement in motor symptoms while minimizing the associated detrimental effects. This is important in order to maximize the motor re-learning based on repetition, reward and practice during rehabilitation. In this scenario, we review the knowledge concerning the interactions between DRT, learning and reward, examine the most impactful DRT side effects and provide suggestions for optimizing rehabilitation in PD.

Original languageEnglish
Article number121
JournalFrontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience
Issue numberJUN
Publication statusPublished - Jun 14 2016


  • Dopamine replacement therapy
  • DRT side effects
  • Learning
  • Rehabilitation
  • Reward prediction

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Behavioral Neuroscience
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Neuropsychology and Physiological Psychology


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