The neurochemical substrates of habitual and goal-directed control.
Our daily decisions are governed by the arbitration between goal-directed and habitual strategies. However, the neurochemical basis of this arbitration is unclear. We assessed the contribution of dopaminergic, serotonergic, and opioidergic systems to this balance across reward and loss domains. Thirty-nine participants (17 healthy controls, 15 patients with pathological gambling, and 7 with binge eating disorder) underwent positron emission tomography (PET) imaging with [18F]FDOPA, [11C]MADAM and [11C]carfentanil to assess presynaptic dopamine, and serotonin transporter and mu-opioid receptor binding potential. Separately, participants completed a modified two-step task, which quantifies the degree to which decision-making is influenced by goal-directed or habitual strategies. All participants completed a version with reward outcomes; healthy controls additionally completed a version with loss outcomes. In the context of rewarding outcomes, we found that greater serotonin transporter binding potential in prefrontal regions was associated with habitual control, while greater serotonin transporter binding potential in the putamen was marginally associated with goal-directed control; however, the findings were no longer significant when controlling for the opposing valence (loss). In blocks with loss outcomes, we found that the opioidergic system, specifically greater [11C]carfentanil binding potential, was positively associated with goal-directed control and negatively associated with habit-directed control. Our findings illuminate the complex neurochemical basis of goal-directed and habitual behavior, implicating differential roles for prefrontal and subcortical serotonin in decision-making across healthy and pathological populations.