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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Investigating the influence of risky decision making on dopaminergic reward mechanisms Ferland, Jacqueline-Marie N.


Addiction is a chronic relapsing psychiatric disorder affecting millions worldwide. Despite years of research investigating the etiology and phenomenology of substance abuse, there is no cure. Determining factors which promote the addictive phenotype may help to discover new therapeutics. Several clinical studies have shown addicts demonstrate poor cost/benefit decision making as measured by validated tasks such as the Iowa Gambling Task (IGT), a cognitive deficit maintained during periods of abstinence and associated with relapse risk. However, it is unclear whether disadvantageous choice precedes or is the consequence of drug abuse. Furthermore, dopaminergic signalling, actively recruited by drugs of abuse, has also been implicated in decision-making biases, and may contribute to choice deficits after drug exposure. The experiments here explored the role of disadvantageous choice in addiction susceptibility using rodent analogues of the IGT, the rat gambling task (rGT) and cued rat gambling task (crGT). These paradigms require the animal to choose between four different nose poke options which are associated with sugar wins, probabilities of winning, and timeouts. The crGT also includes salient reward-paired cues to enhance risky decision making. The first two experiments assessed whether baseline risk-preference on the rGT and crGT affected drug seeking as measured by cocaine self-administration, and whether drug exposure affected task performance. The third study examined the influence of task experience on the locomotor response to cocaine and responding for conditioned reinforcement, two dopamine-dependent behavioural assays associated with addiction risk. Basal and cocaine-induced nucleus accumbens dopamine release was also assessed using microdialysis after task training. The final study used chemogenetics to reduce nucleus accumbens dopamine to investigate the role of dopaminergic tone in choice biases. Our results show poor decision making precedes drug exposure, and is uniquely susceptible to drug-induced cognitive deficits. crGT rats showed greater drug seeking and sensitivity to cocaine-induced choice impairments, a phenotype linked to basal accumbal dopamine efflux. Finally, by reducing accumbens dopamine, animals showed marked reductions in risky choice. These data support the conclusion that poor decision making may serve as a cognitive endophenotype for addiction via aberrant dopaminergic signaling within the mesostriatal network.

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