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Reward circuitry dysfunction in psychiatric and neurodevelopmental disorders and genetic syndromes: animal models and clinical findings

Gabriel S Dichter1235*, Cara A Damiano3 and John A Allen4

Author Affiliations

1 Carolina Institute for Developmental Disabilities, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine, Chapel Hill, NC, USA

2 Department of Psychiatry, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine, Chapel Hill, NC, USA

3 Department of Psychology, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Chapel Hill, NC, USA

4 Neuroscience Research Unit Pfizer Global Research and Development, Groton, CT 06340, USA

5 Department of Psychiatry, University of North Carolina School of Medicine, CB# 7255, 101 Manning Drive, Chapel Hill, NC, 275997255, USA

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Journal of Neurodevelopmental Disorders 2012, 4:19  doi:10.1186/1866-1955-4-19

Published: 6 July 2012


This review summarizes evidence of dysregulated reward circuitry function in a range of neurodevelopmental and psychiatric disorders and genetic syndromes. First, the contribution of identifying a core mechanistic process across disparate disorders to disease classification is discussed, followed by a review of the neurobiology of reward circuitry. We next consider preclinical animal models and clinical evidence of reward-pathway dysfunction in a range of disorders, including psychiatric disorders (i.e., substance-use disorders, affective disorders, eating disorders, and obsessive compulsive disorders), neurodevelopmental disorders (i.e., schizophrenia, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, autism spectrum disorders, Tourette’s syndrome, conduct disorder/oppositional defiant disorder), and genetic syndromes (i.e., Fragile X syndrome, Prader–Willi syndrome, Williams syndrome, Angelman syndrome, and Rett syndrome). We also provide brief overviews of effective psychopharmacologic agents that have an effect on the dopamine system in these disorders. This review concludes with methodological considerations for future research designed to more clearly probe reward-circuitry dysfunction, with the ultimate goal of improved intervention strategies.

Reward; Mesolimbic; Dopamine; Nucleus Accumbens; Striatum; Neuroimaging