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disease (PD) is a chronic, progressive neurodegenerative disorder, characterized by a loss of dopaminergic neurons in the substantia nigra pars compacta. Given that dopamine is critically involved in learning and other cognitive processes, such as working memory, dopamine loss in PD has been linked both to learning abnormalities and to cognitive dysfunction more generally in the disease. It is unclear, however, whether avoidance behavior is impacted in PD. This is significant, as this type of instrumental behavior plays an important role in both decision-making and emotional (dys)function. Consequently, the aim of the present study was to examine avoidance learning and operant extinction in PD using a computer-based task. On this task, participants control a spaceship and attempt to shoot an enemy spaceship to gain points. They also learn to hide in safe areas to protect from (i.e., avoid) aversive events (on-screen explosions and point loss). The results showed that patients with PD (N = 25) acquired an avoidance response during aversive periods to the same extent as healthy age- and education-matched controls (N = 19); however, patients demonstrated greater hiding during safe periods not associated with aversive events, which could represent maladaptive generalization of the avoidance response. Furthermore, this impairment was more pronounced during the extinction phase, and in patients who reported higher levels of depression. These results demonstrate for the first time that PD is associated with maladaptive avoidance patterns, which could possibly contribute to the emergence of depression in the disease.
This article was published in the following journal.
Name: Behavioural brain research
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