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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Salient win-paired cues mediate decision making on a rodent gambling task Barrus, Michael Macfarlane


Background: Pathological gambling is a pervasive and destructive behavioral disorder in which individuals lose control over their gambling behavior, leading to severe personal, social and financial consequences. Current animal models of gambling behavior such as the rodent gambling task (rGT) are useful tools with which to evaluate choice behavior. However, they are limited in their insights into gambling behavior in that they mostly model dimensions of economic decision-making, but not the salient cues intrinsic to human gambling paradigms. Here, we developed a task called the cued rGT to examine the potential influence of salient win-associated cues on decision-making. Methods: 16 male Long-Evans rats were tested on either the traditional or a cued version of the rGT. Once trained, they were treated with a number of dopaminergic compounds to delineate the role of this neurotransmitter in guiding choice behavior in both cued and uncued tasks. Results: Animals on the cued task showed a more disadvantageous choice preference at baseline than animals on the uncued task. Amphetamine caused a significant increase of a safe, certain option in both versions of the task, a result that is somewhat consistent with past findings. Quinpirole, a D2-like agonist, increased disadvantageous choice in the cued group but not the uncued group. There were no effects of eticlopride, a D₂-like antagonist, or selective D4 drugs on choice performance. Conclusions: Salient win-associated cues are sufficient to drive a shift towards disadvantageous choice preference. This effect appears to be mediated, at least in part, by D2-like receptors. These finding suggest the cued rGT is a valuable model with which to study how salient cues can invigorate maladaptive decision making, an important and understudied component of pathological gambling and substance use disorders.

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