Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience
Despite an emerging link between alterations in motivated behavior and a lack of sleep, the impact of sleep deprivation on human brain mechanisms of reward and punishment remain largely unknown, as does the role of trait dopamine activity in modulating such effects in the mesolimbic system. Combining fMRI with an established incentive paradigm and individual genotyping, here, we test the hypothesis that trait differences in the human dopamine transporter (DAT) gene—associated with altered synaptic dopamine signalling—govern the impact of sleep deprivation on neural sensitivity to impending monetary gains and losses. Consistent with this framework, markedly different striatal reward responses were observed following sleep loss depending on the DAT functional polymorphisms. Only participants carrying a copy of the nine-repeat DAT allele—linked to higher phasic dopamine activity—expressed amplified striatal response during anticipation of monetary gain following sleep deprivation. Moreover, participants homozygous for the ten-repeat DAT allele—linked to lower phasic dopamine activity—selectively demonstrated an increase in sensitivity to monetary loss within anterior insula following sleep loss. Together, these data reveal a mechanistic dependency on human of trait dopaminergic function in determining the interaction between sleep deprivation and neural processing of rewards and punishments. Such findings have clinical implications in disorders where the DAT genetic polymorphism presents a known risk factor with comorbid sleep disruption, including attention hyperactive deficit disorder and substance abuse.