Dopamine Precursor Depletion in Healthy Volunteers Impairs Processing of Duration but Not Temporal Order


  • Chassignolle Morgane
  • Jovanovic Ljubica
  • Schmidt-Mutter Catherine
  • Behr Guillaume
  • Giersch Anne
  • Coull Jennifer T

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■ Studies in animals and humans have implicated the neurotransmitter dopamine in duration processing. However, very few studies have examined dopamine's involvement in other forms of temporal processing such as temporal order judgments. In a randomized within-subject placebo-controlled design, we used acute phenylalanine/tyrosine depletion (APTD) to reduce availability of the dopamine precursors tyrosine and phenylalanine in healthy human volunteers. As compared to a nutritionally balanced drink, APTD significantly impaired the ability to accurately reproduce interval duration in a temporal reproduction task. In addition, and confirming previous findings, the direction of error differed as a function of individual differences in underlying dopamine function. Specifically, APTD caused participants with low baseline dopamine precursor availability to overestimate the elapse of time, whereas those with high dopamine availability underestimated time. In contrast to these effects on duration processing, there were no significant effects of APTD on the accuracy of discriminating the temporal order of visual stimuli. This pattern of results does not simply represent an effect of APTD on motor, rather than perceptual, measures of timing because APTD had no effect on participants' ability to use temporal cues to speed RT. Our results demonstrate, for the first time in healthy volunteers, a dopaminergic dissociation in judging metrical (duration) versus ordinal (temporal order) aspects of time. ■

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