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One of the three winners of this year’s Brain Prize worth €1 million is NUI UCG graduate, Professor Ray Dolan. The three winners of the 2017 Brain Prize are Professors Peter Dayan, Wolfram Schultz, and Prof. Dolan who have identified how learning is linked with anticipation of reward.

After graduating, Prof. Dolan specialised in psychiatry and he was recently appointed Co-Director of the new UCL-Max Planck Centre for Computational Psychiatry and Ageing Research. The three prizewinners are receiving this award for increasing understanding of dopamine neurons. Through animal testing, mathematical modelling and human trials, they have proven that the release of dopamine is not a response to the actual reward but to the difference between the expected and the reward actually received. The greater the surprise, the more dopamine is released, according to a statement giving details on the 2017 prize by organiser, the Lundbeck Foundation. Using neuroimaging, he has defined anatomical areas of the brain that are involved in controlling human emotion and decision making. In collaboration with Peter Dayan, Ray Dolan has tested these hypotheses in human trials and, applying brain-scanning techniques to humans, has shown that human behaviour is controlled by the same mechanisms present in laboratory animals.

“One puzzling clinical problem is why some patients treated with drugs that boost dopamine function, for example in Parkinson’s disease, fall prey to pathological gambling. Our work has shown that this effect is, at least in part, due to dopamine amplifying an innate tendency to repeat activities that are rewarding,” Prof. Dolan said. In animal trials, Wolfram Schultz has mapped the parts of the brain in which dopamine neurons are located and has illustrated how they react to reward and external stimuli, helping control the behaviour of the laboratory animals.  The Prize will be presented by the Crown Prince of Denmark on Thursday, May 4  in Copenhagen.