Current Pharmaceutical Design, 2011, 17, 000-000
1381-6128/11 $58.00+.00 © 2011 Bentham Science Publishers
“Liking” and “Wanting” Linked to Reward Deficiency Syndrome (RDS): Hypothe-
sizing Differential Responsivity in Brain Reward Circuitry
Kenneth Bluma,*, Eliot Gardnerb, Marlene Oscar-Bermanc and Mark Golda
aDepartment of Psychiatry and McKnight Brain Institute, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL, USA; bIntramural Research Pro-
gram, National Institute on Drug Abuse, National Institutes of Health, Baltimore, MD, USA; cDepartment of Veterans Affairs
Healthcare System, and Boston University School of Medicine, Boston, MA, USA
Abstract: 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 he-
donic impact of reward (liking), (b) learned predictions about rewarding effects (learning), or (c) the pursuit of rewards by attributing in-
centive 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 evi-
dence. 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 self-
administered, 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”.
NEUROBIOLOGY OF REWARD DEFICIENCY SYN-
The term, Reward Deficiency Syndrome (RDS) was first coined
by Blum et al. [2,3] and refers to an insufficiency of usual feelings
of satisfaction. RDS results from a dysfunction in the “brain reward
cascade,” a complex interaction among neurotransmitters(primarily
dopaminergic and opiodergic). Individuals who have a family his-
tory of alcoholism or other addictions may be born with a defi-
ciency in the ability to produce or use these neurotransmitters. Ex-
posure to prolonged periods of stress and alcohol or other sub-
stances can also lead to a corruption of the brain reward cascade
function. In any case, when the neurotransmitters are low or are
blocked from reaching the intended brain receptors, individuals
often feel discomfort or pain. Behaviors resulting from a failure of
the system that normally confers satisfaction include drug and alco-
hol abuse, overeating, heavy cigarette smoking, gambling, and hy-
peractivity. Blum and colleagues [2,3] have linked these disorders
to a genetic defect, especially to dysfunction of dopamine receptors.
Dopamine (DA) is a powerful brain neurotransmitter that con-
trols feelings of well being. It interacts with other powerful brain
chemicals and neurotransmitters (e.g., serotonin and the opioids),
each of which binds to specific receptors serving particular intercel-
lular functions in the control of moods and cravings. The binding of
the neurotransmitter to neuronal receptors triggers a reaction that is
part of the cascade. Disruption of these intercellular cascades re-
sults in aberrant behavior in RDS, including addictions, impulsivity,
and excessive risk taking.Thus, people who have a defect in the
DRD2 DA receptor gene, lack a sufficient number of DA receptors
in their brains to produce the brain reward cascade. In turn, this
leads to RDS, including abnormal cravings and resultant anomalous
*Address correspondence to this author at the Department of Psychiatry and
McKnight Brain Institute, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL 32610,
USA; Tel:/Fax: ?????????????????????????????;
conduct. RDS is a complicated concept linking reward seeking with
genetic antecedents to dopaminergic traits, and important issues
have been pursued by many since its inception in 1996.
RDS and Drug Abuse. According to Gardner , addictive
drugs have in common that they are voluntarily self-administered
by laboratory animals (usually avidly), and that they enhance the
functioning of the reward circuitry of the brain (producing the 'high'
that the drug user seeks). The core reward circuitry consists of an
in-series circuit linking the ventral tegmental area (VTA), nucleus
accumbens (NAc) and ventral pallidum via the medial forebrain
bundle. Although originally believed simply to encode the set point
of hedonic tone, these circuits now are believed to be functionally
far more complex, also encoding attention, expectancy of reward,
disconfirmation of reward expectancy, and incentive motivation. It
has been speculated that hedonic dysregulation within these circuits
may lead to addiction . A second-stage dopaminergic component
in this reward circuitry is the crucial addictive-drug-sensitive com-
ponent. All addictive drugs also have in common that they enhance
(directly or indirectly or even transsynaptically) dopaminergic re-
ward synaptic function in the NAc . For addictive drugs (e.g.,
opiates), tolerance to the euphoric effects develops with chronic
use. Post-use dysphoria then comes to dominate reward circuit he-
donic tone, and addicts no longer use drugs to get high, but simply
to get back to normal (to ”get straight”). Importantly, the brain cir-
cuits mediating pleasurable effects of addictive drugs are anatomi-
cally, neurophysiologically, and neurochemically different from
those mediating physical dependence, and from those mediating
craving and relapse. There are important genetic variations in vul-
nerability to drug addiction (e.g., variations in the gene encoding
the dopamine D2 receptor — the DRD2 gene). Concomitantly,
environmental factors such as stress (high stress combined with
polymorphisms in dopaminergic genes, as well as other neuro-
transmitter genetic variants), and social defeat also alter brain-
reward mechanisms in such a manner as to impart vulnerability to
addiction . Thus, elevated stress levels, together with polymor-
phisms of dopaminergic genes and other neurotransmitter genetic
variants, may have a cumulative effect on vulnerability to addiction
2 Current Pharmaceutical Design, 2011, Vol. 17, No. 00 Blum et al.
. A bio-psycho-social model of etiology holds very well for ad-
diction. According to Conner et al. , addiction appears to corre-
late with a hypodopaminergic dysfunctional state within the reward
circuitry of the brain, producing an addiction-prone personality.
Neuroimaging studies in humans add credence to this hypothe-
sis. Credible evidence also implicates serotonergic, opioid, endo-
cannabinoid, GABAergic, and glutamatergic mechanisms in addic-
tion as denoted in the brain reward cascade hypothesis . Criti-
cally, drug addiction progresses from occasional recreational use to
impulsive use, to habitual compulsive use. This correlates with a
progression from reward-driven to habit-driven drug-seeking be-
havior. This behavioral progression correlates with a neuroanatomi-
cal progression from ventral striatal/NAc to dorsal striatal control
over drug-seeking behavior. The three classical sets of craving and
relapse triggers are reexposure to addictive drugs, stress, and reex-
posure to environmental cues (people, places, and things) previ-
ously associated with drug-taking behavior. Drug-triggered relapse
involves the NAc and the neurotransmitter DA, especially super-
sensitivity of DA receptors . Stress-triggered relapse involves
(a) the central nucleus of the amygdala, the bed nucleus of the stria
terminalis, and the neurotransmitter corticotrophin-releasing factor,
and (b) the lateral tegmental noradrenergic nuclei of the brain stem
and the neurotransmitter norepinephrine. Cue-triggered relapse
involves the basolateral nucleus of the amygdala, the hippocampus,
and the neurotransmitter glutamate.
RDS and Overeating. Stice et al. [12-15] and others [16-19]
found a substantial difference between dorsal striatal activation to
receipt of palatable food and anticipated receipt of palatable
food. Indeed, blunted response of the mesocorticolimbic system to
receipt of chocolate milkshake predicted future weight gain [12,13],
while elevated response of these same regions to a cue signaling
impending receipt of milkshake (anticipation) also predicted future
weight gain . This observed difference is an example of the
separation between hedonic “liking” and non-pleasurable motiva-
tional “wanting” that Berridge et al. [1,21-23] postulated
Interestingly, brain regions within the reward circuitry respond
differentially in obese compared to lean probands, suggesting po-
tential mechanisms for weight gain in humans . Ng et al. 
found that obese relative to lean women showed greater activation
in somatosensory (Rolandic operculum), gustatory (frontal opercu-
lum), and reward valuation regions (amgydala, ventromedial pre-
frontal cortex) in response to intake and anticipated intake of milk-
shake versus tasteless solution, with little evidence of altered stri-
atal activation. Obese relative to lean women also showed greater
activation in the Rolandic operculum, frontal operculum, and ven-
tromedial prefrontal cortex in response to isocaloric milkshakes
labeled regular versus low fat. The authors suggested that hyper-
responsivity of somatosensory, gustatory, and reward valuation
brain loci may be related to overeating and that top-down process-
ing influence reward encoding, which could further contribute to
weight gain. The same investigators published convincing evidence
that similar patterns of neural activation are implicated in addictive-
like eating behavior and substance dependence: elevated activation
in reward circuitry (dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and caudate) in
response to food cues and reduced activation of inhibitory regions
(lateral orbitofrontal cortex) in response to food intake .
Berridge  pointed out that brain reward systems mediate
both motivational wanting and hedonic liking for food and drug
rewards. In a recent article regarding brain mechanisms of hedonic
liking, he and associates found cubic-millimeter hedonic hotspots in
NAc and ventral pallidum for opioid amplification of sensory
pleasure. The investigators also considered brain “wanting” or in-
centive salience systems [21,22] important to appetite, such as
mesolimbic DA systems and opioid motivation circuits that extend
beyond the hedonic hotspots. They considered potential ways in
which wanting and liking might relate to overeating, suggesting that
hedonic liking may have a different substrate than motivational
Peciña et al. , using a genetic mutant approach examined
the consequences of elevated synaptic DA on: (a) spontaneous food
and water intake, (b) incentive motivation and learning to obtain a
palatable sweet reward in a runway task, and (c) affective liking
reactions elicited by the taste of sucrose. A DA-transporter knock-
down mutation that preserves only 10% of normal DA transporter,
and therefore causes mutant mice to have 70% elevated levels of
synaptic DA, was used to identify DA effects on food intake and
reward. They found that hyperdopaminergic DA-transporter knock-
down mutant mice had higher food and water intake. In a runway
task, the animals demonstrated enhanced acquisition and greater
incentive performance for a sweet reward. Hyperdopaminergic
mutant mice left the start box more quickly than wild-type mice,
required fewer trials to learn, paused less often in the runway, re-
sisted distractions better, and proceeded more directly to the goal.
Those observations suggested that hyperdopaminergic mutant mice
attributed greater incentive salience (wanting) to a sweet reward in
the runway test. But sucrose taste failed to elicit higher orofacial
hedonic liking reactions from mutant mice in an affective taste
reactivity test. These results indicated that chronically elevated
extracellular DA facilitated wanting and learning of an incetive
motivation task for a sweet reward, but elevated DA did not in-
crease liking reactions to the hedonic impact of sweet tastes. In
contrast, an increase in liking reactions was due to a hypodopa-
minergic or deficient trait possibly tied to polymorphic genes in-
cluding the DRD2 A1 allele [24-26].
Treating RDS. Considering the hypothesis that treating RDS
(e.g., drug addiction such as cocaine dependence) should include, at
least in part, DA D2 agonist agonistic therapy, Peng et al. 
evaluated the slow-onset long-acting monoamine reuptake inhibitor
31,345, a trans-aminotetralin analog, in a variety of addiction-
related animal models. Their findings suggested that 31,345 is a
cocaine-like slow-onset long-acting monoamine transporter inhibi-
tor that may act as an agonist therapy for cocaine addiction. How-
ever, its pattern of action appeared to be significantly different from
that of methadone used as an agonist opioid therapeutic modality.
Peng et al.  suggested that ideal agonist substitutes for cocaine
should fully emulate methadone's actions, that is, functionally an-
tagonizing cocaine's action while blocking monoamine transporters
to augment synaptic DA.
It terms of agonist therapy, it is important to realize that the
baseline amount of DA receptors has predictability as to differential
clinical outcomes in RDS. Cohen et al.  studied 10 subjects
with an allele on the Taq1A DRD2 gene, which is associated with
reduced DA receptor concentration and decreased neural responses
to rewards (A1+ subjects). Subjects were scanned twice, once on
placebo and once on cabergoline, a D2 receptor agonist. Consistent
with an inverted-U relationship between the DRD2 polymorphism
and drug effects, cabergoline increased neural reward responses in
the medial orbitofrontal cortex, cingulate cortex, and striatum for
A1+ subjects, but decreased reward responses in these regions for
A1- subjects. In contrast, cabergoline decreased task performance
and fronto-striatal connectivity in A1+ subjects but had the opposite
effect in A1- subjects. The importance of possessing the DRD2 A1
allele in drug addiction and its treatment is in agreement with other
studies by Lawford et al.  and by Blum et al. .
NEUROIMAGING AND NEURAL SUBSTRATES IN RDS
Ko et al.  identified the neural substrates of online gaming
addiction through evaluation of the brain areas associated with the
cue-induced gaming urge. Ten participants with online gaming
addiction and 10 control subjects without online gaming addiction
were tested. They were presented with gaming pictures and paired
mosaic pictures while undergoing functional magnetic resonance
Liking Drugs of Addiction Current Pharmaceutical Design, 2011, Vol. 17, No. 00 3
imaging (fMRI) scanning. The contrast in blood-oxygen-level de-
pendent (BOLD) signals when viewing gaming pictures and when
viewing mosaic pictures was used to evaluate the brain activations.
In their experiment, right orbitofrontal cortex, right NAc, bilateral
anterior cingulate, bilateral medial frontal cortex, right dorsolateral
prefrontal cortex, and right caudate nucleus were activated in the
addicted group in contrast to the control group. Activation of the
above brain areas was positively correlated with self-reported gam-
ing urge and recall of gaming experiences provoked by gaming
pictures. The results demonstrated that the neural substrate of cue-
induced gaming urge/craving in online gaming addiction is similar
to that of cue-induced craving in substance dependence [32,33].
The authors noted a commonality between the brain regions con-
tributing to craving in substance dependence and those involved in
online gaming. Thus, the gaming urge/craving in online gaming
addiction and craving in substance dependence might share the
same neurobiological mechanism as defined by RDS.
In a study using fMRI to examine brain activation of the DA
reward system during a gambling task, Cohen et al.  elegantly
showed that individual differences in extraversion and the presence
of the A1 allele on the DA D2 receptor gene predicted activation
magnitudes. In two separate experiments, participants probabilisti-
cally received rewards either immediately following a behavioral
response, or after a 7.5 s anticipation period. Although group acti-
vation maps revealed anticipation- and reward-related activations in
the reward system, individual differences in extraversion and the
presence of the D2 Taq1A allele predicted considerable inter-
subject variability in the magnitudes of reward-related, but not an-
ticipation-related, activations. The authors noted that their findings
support a link between genetics, personality traits, and brain func-
Drug-related stimuli may induce craving in addicted patients,
prompting drug-seeking behavior. In addition, studies have shown
addicted patients to be less sensitive to pleasant, non-drug-related
stimuli, indicating a deficiency in normal hedonic response or an-
hedonia . Zijlstra et al.  found that the VTA was promi-
nently involved in cue-induced opioid craving evoked by heroin-
associated stimuli, in addition to the involvement of more anatomi-
cally-distributed mesolimbic and mesocortical pathways as identi-
fied in previous research. Their study provides additional evidence
supporting the presence of reduced brain activation in heroin-
dependent patients in response to pleasant non-drug-related stimuli,
with greater activation to drug-cues.
Obesity is characterized by the over-consumption of palat-
able/rewarding foods, reflecting an imbalance in the relative impor-
tance of hedonic versus homeostatic signals. The incentive salience
hypothesis of food reward recognizes not only a hedonic/pleasure
component (liking) but also an incentive motivation component
(wanting). Most importantly, the neurobiological functioning of the
brain’s reward mechanisms is such that the mesoaccumbal DA
system confers incentive motivation not only for natural rewards
such as food but also for artificial rewards such as addictive drugs.
This mesoaccumbal DA system receives and integrates information
about the incentive/rewarding value of foods with information
about metabolic status. According to Egecioglu et al. , prob-
lematic over-eating likely reflects a changing balance in the control
exerted by hypothalamic versus reward circuits and/or an allostatic
shift in the hedonic set point for food reward. These same investiga-
tors have shown that ghrelin activates the mesoaccumbal DA sys-
tem and that central ghrelin signaling is required for reward from
both addictive drugs (e.g., alcohol) and palatable foods. ?
Whereas ghrelin initially emerged as a stomach-derived hor-
mone involved in energy balance, hunger, and meal initiation via
action in food hunger-related hypothalamic circuits, it now seems
SALIENCE THEORY AND REWARD
clear that ghrelin also has a role in motivated reward-driven behav-
iors through activation of the so-called cholinergic-dopaminergic
reward link [37,38]. According to Dickson et al. , this reward
link comprises a DA projection from the VTA to the NAc together
with a cholinergic input, arising primarily from the laterodorsal
tegmental (LDTg) area. Moreover, ghrelin administration into the
VTA or LDTg activates this cholinergic-dopaminergic reward link,
suggesting that ghrelin may increase the incentive value of moti-
vated behaviors such as reward-seeking (wanting or incentive moti-
vation). Importantly, direct injection of ghrelin into the brain ven-
tricles or into the VTA increases the consumption of rewarding
foods as well as alcohol in mice and rats. Studies in rodents show
beneficial effects of ghrelin receptor (GHS-R1A) antagonists to
suppress the intake of palatable food, to reduce preference for ca-
loric foods, to suppress food reward and motivated behavior for
food . Ghrelin receptor (GHS-R1A) antagonists also have been
shown to reduce alcohol consumption, suppress reward induced by
alcohol, cocaine, and amphetamine. Further, variations in the GHS-
R1A and pro-ghrelin genes have been associated with high alcohol
consumption, smoking, and increased weight gain in alcohol de-
pendent individuals, as well as with bulimia nervosa and obesity
. We suggest that these findings with ghrelin antagonists and
related genes affect multiple addictive behaviors as predicted by
Work on salient bio-behavior has recently emerged from many
laboratories. Davis et al.  suggested that obesity research suf-
fers from an over-inclusion paradigm whereby all participants with
a body mass index beyond a certain cutoff value (e.g., 30) are typi-
cally combined in a single group and compared to those of normal
weight. They examined genetic and psychological indicators of
hedonic eating in obese adults and binge eating disorder (BED).
Their analyses focused on DA and opioid genetic markers because
of their conjoint association with the functioning of brain reward
mechanisms. Three functional polymorphisms related to the D2
receptor (DRD2) gene, as well as the functional A118G polymor-
phism of the mu-opioid receptor (OPRM1) gene were targeted.
They found that significantly more obese controls had the loss-of-
function A1 allele of Taq1A compared to their BED counterparts,
whereas the gain-of-function G allele of A118G occurred with
greater frequency in the BED group. A significant gene-gene com-
bination X2 analysis also indicated that of those participants with
the gain-gain genotype (G+ and A1), 80% were in the BED group
whereas only 35% with the loss-loss genotype (G- and A1+) were
in this group. BED subjects had significantly higher scores on a
self-report measure of hedonic eating. Their findings may suggest
that BED is a biologically based subtype of obesity or RDS, and
that being prone to binge eating may be influenced by a hyper-
reactivity to the hedonic properties of food — a predisposition that
according to Davis et al.  is easily exploited in our current envi-
ronment with its highly visible and easily accessible surfeit of sweet
and fatty foods. Their conclusion that DA is for “wanting” and
opioids are for “liking” may be too simplistic. It is important to
realize that neurotransmitter action is a progressive cumulative
interactive cascade of events and that no one single-nucleotide
polymorphism (SNP) nor one single neurotransmitter provides such
RELAPSE AND DA SUPER-SENSITIVITY AT RECEPTORS?
In an earlier paper on deprivation-amplification relapse therapy
(DART) , we postulated that relapse to drugs of abuse and other
addictions may be due to DA D2 receptor super-sensitivity. Spe-
cifically, although carriers of the A1/A2 genotype may have re-
duced numbers of D2 receptors but normal amounts of presynaptic
DA, when they gamble(an activity that involves anticipation of
reward), they may be subjected to excessive release of DA. Interest-
ingly, different cues and/or substances have been associated with
different amounts of NAc DA release. For example, food caused a
6% release of DA, music a 9% release, and cocaine a 22% release
4 Current Pharmaceutical Design, 2011, Vol. 17, No. 00 Blum et al.
. Food also produced a blunted striatal response to palatable
food consumption in women who gained weight over short period
of time relative to weight-stable women . Gambling associated
with aberrant DA genetics , produced a hypersensitive response
. We conjecture that the stress associated with gambling pro-
duces a dramatic increase in release of DA into the synapse ,
but that food fails to produce that degree of DA flooding.
Blum et al.  noted that a super sensitivity might exist even
in DRD2 A1 positive subjects with reduced (30-40%) D2 receptors.
This super sensitivity may be due to deprivation-amplification. It is
known that reduced numbers of D2 receptors (possibly via D2 po-
lymorphisms or other means), produces a super sensitivity of the
remaining D2 receptors . In support of this idea, Harrison and
LaHoste  reported that striatal DA receptors became supersensi-
tive when dopaminergic input was removed through either surgical
denervation or pharmacological depletion, or by means of gene
When dopaminergic input to the striatum is removed surgically
or pharmacologically, the receptors become highly sensi-
tive.Although alterations such as increased D2 receptor binding and
increased receptor-G protein coupling have been described in su-
persensitive striatal tissue, their roles in the mechanism of super
sensitivity remain uncertain. The Ras Homolog Enriched in Stria-
tum (Rhes) is similar to members of the Ras-like GTP-binding pro-
tein family, and it isexpressed in brain areas that receive dopa-
minergic input. Harrison and LaHoste  have tested whether
alterations in Rhes expression accompanied treatments that promote
DA receptor super-sensitivity in rats. Removal of DA input to the
striatum by denervation with 6-hydroxydopamine resulted in a de-
crease in Rhes mRNA expression throughout the striatum, as meas-
ured with quantitative in situ hybridization. The decrease was de-
tected as early as two weeks and as late as seven months after sur-
gery. Furthermore, a decrease in Rhes mRNA was evident after
repeated or acute treatment with reserpine (a DA depleator).
Chronic daily injection of rats with the D2 antagonist eticlopride,
which is known to up-regulate D2 receptors without inducing pro-
found receptor super sensitivity, did not alter the expression of Rhes
mRNA in the striatum. Thus, changes in Rhes mRNA expression
were strictly correlated with receptor super sensitivity, perhaps as a
result of continuous removal of dopaminergic input, as may be the
case in genetically induced RDS . These findings suggest that
Rhes mRNA expression is maintained by DA and may play a role
in determining normal DA receptor sensitivity. This is just one
example of how DA receptor super sensitivity may manifest itself.
Thus, blunted or heightened effects from psychoactive substances
(e.g., alcohol, cocaine, heroin, nicotine, glucose, etc.) and behaviors
(sex, gambling, etc.) seem quite complex and may well relate to
molecule-receptor interactions relative to anticipatory behaviors.
We hypothesize that these seemingly diverse effects may be sub-
strate-dependent and reward-deficiency independent. Further inves-
tigation, therefore, is needed to unravel the mechanisms governing
reward dependence behaviors. ?
IS DOPAMINE’S ROLE “WANTING,”“LEARNING” OR
While it may seem difficult to differentiate the role of DA in
brain reward mechanisms, a number of investigators have attempted
to do so. Robinson et al.  examined whether DA regulates lik-
ing, wanting, and/or learning about rewards during goal-directed
behavior. The researchers tested genetically engineered dopamine-
deficient (DD) mice for acquisition of an appetitive T-maze task
with and without endogenous DA signaling. They established that
DD mice treated with L-dihydroxyphenylalanine (L-dopa) per-
formed similarly to controls on a T-maze task designed to measure
liking, wanting, and learning about rewards. However, further ex-
periments, which tested saline-, caffeine-, and L-dopa-treated DD
mice on the T-maze, separated performance factors from cognitive
processes, and the findings revealed that DA was not necessary for
mice to like or learn about rewards, but it was necessary for mice to
seek (want) rewards during goal-directed behavior. In essence,
Robinson et al.  demonstrated that reward learning could pro-
ceed normally in the brains of DD mice, even though they con-
tained no DA at the time of learning, if the mice were given caf-
feine just before learning. Caffeine activated the DD mice by an
unknown non-dopaminergic mechanism, allowing them to learn
where to obtain food reward in a T-maze runway. Their reward-
learning-without-DA was revealed on a subsequent test day, when
DA function was restored by L-dopa administration. Robinson et al.
 concluded that DA was not needed for normal learning about
rewards, nor for hedonic liking of rewards during learning, but
rather specifically for a motivational wanting component of reward
— incentive salience. These results agree with the findings of Davis
 (as previously cited) suggesting that DA is for “wanting” and
opioids are for “liking”.?
Wilson et al.  systematically explored the role of neuro-
transmitters in “wanting” and “liking”. They tested rats following
acute, systemic administration of drugs that globally enhance sero-
tonin and noradrenaline (imipramine), DA (GBR 12909), and
opioid (morphine) function in a behavioral task designed to meas-
ure wanting and liking. Imipramine augmented the effects of delay
and taste on reward "wanting", GBR 12909 attenuated the effects of
delay on reward "wanting" and the effects of taste on reward "lik-
ing," and morphine reduced the effect of delay on a measure of
reward "wanting." Since morphine failed to affect reward "liking,"
but previously had been found to enhance reward "liking" in taste
reactivity tests, and since DA seemed to affect both “wanting” and
“liking,” these data underscore the complexity of this concept, as
well as the need for more definitive research.?
However, there is evidence that DA’s function is not one of
inducing pleasure per se but instead is required for seeking pleas-
ure. The findings of Schmidt et al.  did not support the anhedo-
nia hypothesis of central dopaminergic dysfunction as proposed
other by investigators [50-52]. Rather, affective flattening reflected
by DA receptor sensitivity may result from the lack of an affective
response towards reward-indicating stimuli. These findings indi-
cated that patients with dopaminergic dysfunction were not unable
to experience pleasure, but may have failed to be motivated by
environmental stimuli to seek reward. The complex nature of re-
ward mechanisms is further evidenced by the work of Mirenowicz
and Schultz , suggesting that DA neurons in monkeys were
activated by unpredicted appetitive stimuli such as food and liquid
rewards and by conditioned reward-predicting stimuli. They further
found that in contrast to appetitive events, primary and conditioned
aversive stimuli either failed to activate DA neurons or induced
weaker responses than appetitive stimuli. Thus, DA neurons prefer-
entially reported environmental stimuli with appetitive rather than
aversive motivational value.
Of note, the idea that aversive and appetitive stimuli have some
similar effects is an important element for the view that DA signals
salience. However, it is not only DA that behaves in this way. Pep-
tides such as corticotropin-releasing hormone also respond similarly
to both types of stimuli, although the extent of the changes is not
the same.Finally, Koob and Volkow  in discussing the neuro-
circuitry of addiction, emphasized the role of both impulsivity and
compulsivity leading to a tripartite addiction cycle involving three
stages: binge/intoxication, withdrawal/negative affect, and preoccu-
pation/anticipation (craving). Impulsivity and compulsivity, as well
as the various stages in the cycle, are tied to specific brain systems.
Clearly, the picture is not a simple one.
According to an English study by Sharot and associates ,
the brain chemical DA influences how people make simple and
complex decisions, from what to make for dinner to whether to
Liking Drugs of Addiction Current Pharmaceutical Design, 2011, Vol. 17, No. 00 5
have children. "Humans make much more complex decisions than
other animals — such as which job to take, where to vacation,
whether to start a family — and we wanted to understand the role of
dopamine in making these types of decisions.” The investigators
showed that L-dopa enhanced dopaminergic function during the
imaginative construction of positive future life events, subsequently
enhanced estimates of the hedonic pleasure (“liking”) to be derived
from these same events. These findings provided indirect evidence
for the role of DA in the modulation of subjective hedonic expecta-
tions in humans.
The initial RDS hypothesis suggested that a dysregulation or
dysfunction of mesolimbic DA induces a motivation for seeking
reward based stimuli [2,3].Later,substantial subsequent evidence
accrued to showthat a driving force for drug use was ‘liking’ and
not just ‘wanting’[51-52,56], but some evidence also showed the
role of ‘learning’ . Based upon the accumulation of evidence,
we recommend that RDS should now be redefined to specify the
distinct role of DA for “wanting,”“learning,” or liking”. However,
the RDS hypothesis continues to posit that hypodopaminergic func-
tion predisposes an individual to seek psychoactive substances and
behaviors to release DA in reward circuits of the brain to overcome
DA deficits. Although originally believed to simply encode the set
point of hedonic tone, these DA circuits currently are believed to be
functionally far more complex, also encoding attention, expectancy
of reward, disconfirmation of reward expectancy, and incentive
motivation. Hedonic dysregulation within these circuits may lead to
addiction . The second-stage dopaminergic component in this
reward circuitry is the crucial addictive-drug-sensitive component.
All addictive drugs have in common that they enhance (directly or
indirectly or even transsynaptically) dopaminergic reward synaptic
function in the NAc . Drug self-administration is regulated by
NAc DA levels, and is done to keep NAc DA within a specific
elevated range (to maintain a desired hedonic level). Moreover, it is
important to keep in mind that an older DA hypothesis , a sin-
gle system model, posited that the neurotransmitter DA played a
fundamental role in mediating the rewarding properties of all
classes of stimuli. In contrast, both nondeprived/deprived and sali-
ency attribution models claim that separate systems make inde-
pendent contributions to reward. The former identifies the psycho-
logical boundary defined by the two systems as being between
states of nondeprivation (e.g., food sated) and deprivation (e.g.,
hunger). The latter identifies a boundary between liking and want-
ing systems. In doing so, the newer understanding by Berridge and
others [1,54] does not negate the underlying root cause of addiction
as proposed by the RDS concept. In our view the role of DA defi-
ciency remains key in reward seeking behavior. Further research
using imaging tools will provide important adjunctive information
necessary to characterize fully the role of DA in reward circuitry
and in RDS behaviors.
Marlene Oscar Berman, Ph.D. is the recipient of grants from
NIAAA (R01 AA07112, K05 AA 00219) and from the Medical
Research Service of the US Department of Veterans Affairs.
CONFLICT OF INTEREST
Kenneth Blum, PhD owns stock in LifeGen, Inc., the exclusive
distributor worldwide of patents related to Reward Deficiency Syn-
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