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Levodopa: Faster and better word learning in normal humans



Dopamine is a potent modulator of learning and has been implicated in the encoding of stimulus salience. Repetition, however, as required for the acquisition and reacquisition of sensorimotor or cognitive skills (e.g., in aphasia therapy), decreases salience. We here tested whether increasing brain levels of dopamine during repetitive training improves learning success. Forty healthy humans took 100mg of the dopamine precursor levodopa or placebo daily for 5 days in a randomized double-blind and parallel-group design. Ninety minutes later on each day, subjects were trained on an artificial vocabulary using a high-frequency repetitive approach. Levodopa significantly enhanced the speed, overall success, and long-term retention of novel word learning in a dose-dependent manner. These findings indicate new ways to potentiate learning in a variety of domains if conventional training alone fails.