Memory formation is a selective process in which reward contingencies determine which memory is maintained and which is forgotten. Sleep plays a pivotal role in maintaining information for the long term and has been shown to specifically benefit memories that are associated with reward. Key to memory consolidation during sleep is a neuronal reactivation of newly encoded representations. However, it is unclear whether preferential consolidation of memories associated with reward requires the reactivation of dopaminergic circuitry known to mediate reward effects at encoding. In a placebo-controlled, double-blind, balanced crossover experiment, we show that the dopamine D2-like receptor agonist pramipexole given during sleep wipes out reward contingencies. Before sleep, 16 men learned 160 pictures of landscapes and interiors that were associated with high or low rewards, if they were identified between new stimuli at retrieval 24 hr later. In the placebo condition, the participants retained significantly more pictures that promised a high reward. In the pramipexole condition, this difference was wiped out, and performance for the low reward pictures was as high as that for high reward pictures. Pramipexole did not generally enhance memory consolidation probably because of the fact that the dopaminergic agonist concurrently suppressed both SWS and REM sleep. These results are consistent with the concept that preferential consolidation of reward-associated memories relies on hippocampus-driven reactivation within the dopaminergic reward system during sleep, whereby during sleep reward contingencies are fed back to the hippocampus to strengthen specific memories, possibly, through dopaminergic facilitation of long-term potentiation.

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