Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience
Response inhibition, comprising action cancellation and action restraint, and error awareness are executive functions of considerable clinical relevance to neuropsychiatric disorders. Nevertheless, our understanding of their underlying catecholamine mechanisms, particularly regarding dopamine, is limited. Here, we used the dopamine D2 agonist cabergoline to study its ability to improve inhibitory control and modulate awareness of performance errors. A randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled, crossover design with a single dose of cabergoline (1.25 mg) and placebo (dextrose) was employed in 25 healthy participants. They each performed the stop-signal task, a well-validated measure of action cancellation, and the Error Awareness Task, a go/no-go measure of action restraint and error awareness, under each drug condition. Cabergoline was able to selectively reduce stop-signal RT, compared with placebo, indicative of enhanced action cancellation (p < .05). This enhancement occurred without concomitant changes in overall response speed or RT variability and was not seen for errors of commission on the Error Awareness Task. Awareness of performance errors on the go/no-go task was, however, significantly improved by cabergoline compared with placebo (p < .05). Our results contribute to growing evidence for the dopaminergic control of distinct aspects of human executive ability, namely, action cancellation and error awareness. The findings may aid the development of new, or the repurposing of existing, pharmacotherapy that targets the cognitive dysfunction of psychiatric and neurological disorders. They also provide further evidence that specific cognitive paradigms have correspondingly specific neurochemical bases.