Opioid Modulation of Value-Based Decision-Making in Healthy Humans


Modifying behavior to maximize reward is integral to adaptive decision-making. In rodents, the $mu$-opioid receptor (MOR) system encodes motivation and preference for high-value rewards. Yet it remains unclear whether and how human MORs contribute to value-based decision-making. We reasoned that if the human MOR system modulates value-based choice, this would be reflected by opposite effects of agonist and antagonist drugs. In a double-blind pharmacological cross-over study, 30 healthy men received morphine (10 mg), placebo, and the opioid antagonist naltrexone (50 mg). They completed a two-alternative decision-making task known to induce a considerable bias towards the most frequently rewarded response option. To quantify MOR involvement in this bias, we fitted accuracy and reaction time data with the drift–diffusion model (DDM) of decision-making. The DDM analysis revealed the expected bidirectional drug effects for two decision subprocesses. MOR stimulation with morphine increased the preference for the stimulus with high-reward probability (shift in starting point). Compared to placebo, morphine also increased, and naltrexone reduced, the efficiency of evidence accumulation. Since neither drug affected motor-coordination, speed-accuracy trade-off, or subjective state (indeed participants were still blinded after the third session), we interpret the MOR effects on evidence accumulation efficiency as a consequence of changes in effort exerted in the task. Together, these findings support a role for the human MOR system in value-based choice by tuning decision-making towards high-value rewards across stimulus domains.

Neuropsychopharmacology: official publication of the American College of Neuropsychopharmacology ()
Guido Biele
Guido Biele

My research interests include statistical and cognitive modeling around ADHD.