Markers of serotonergic function in the orbitofrontal cortex and dorsal raphé nucleus predict individual variation in spatial-discrimination serial reversal learning

Rebecca L. Barlow, Johan Alsiö, Bianca Jupp, Rebecca Rabinovich, Saurav Shrestha, Angela C. Roberts, Trevor W. Robbins, Jeffrey W. Dalley

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33 Citations (Scopus)


Dysfunction of the orbitofrontal cortex (OFC) impairs the ability of individuals to flexibly adapt behavior to changing stimulus-reward (S-R) contingencies. Impaired flexibility also results from interventions that alter serotonin (5-HT) and dopamine (DA) transmission in the OFC and dorsomedial striatum (DMS). However, it is unclear whether similar mechanisms underpin naturally occurring variations in behavioral flexibility. In the present study, we used a spatial-discrimination serial reversal procedure to investigate interindividual variability in behavioral flexibility in rats. We show that flexibility on this task is improved following systemic administration of the 5-HT reuptake inhibitor citalopram and by low doses of the DA reuptake inhibitor GBR12909. Rats in the upper quintile of the distribution of perseverative responses during repeated S-R reversals showed significantly reduced levels of the 5-HT metabolite, 5-hydroxy-indoleacetic acid, in the OFC. Additionally, 5-HT2A receptor binding in the OFC of mid- and high-quintile rats was significantly reduced compared with rats in the low-quintile group. These perturbations were accompanied by an increase in the expression of monoamine oxidase-A (MAO-A) and MAO-B in the lateral OFC and by a decrease in the expression of MAO-A, MAO-B, and tryptophan hydroxylase in the dorsal raphé nucleus of highly perseverative rats. We found no evidence of significant differences in markers of DA and 5-HT function in the DMS or MAO expression in the ventral tegmental area of low- vs high-perseverative rats. These findings indicate that diminished serotonergic tone in the OFC may be an endophenotype that predisposes to behavioral inflexibility and other forms of compulsive behavior.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1619-1630
Number of pages12
Issue number7
Publication statusPublished - 4 Feb 2015
Externally publishedYes

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