Elevated dopamine alters consummatory pattern generation and increases behavioral variability during learning
The role of dopamine in controlling behavior remains poorly understood. In this study we examined licking behavior in an established hyperdopaminergic mouse model—dopamine transporter knockout (DAT KO) mice. DAT KO mice showed higher rates of licking, which is due to increased perseveration of licking in a bout. By contrast, they showed increased individual lick durations, and reduced inter-lick intervals. During extinction, both KO and control mice transiently increased variability in lick pattern generation while reducing licking rate, yet they showed very different behavioral patterns. Control mice gradually increased lick duration as well as variability. By contrast, DAT KO mice exhibited more immediate (within 10 licks) adjustments—an immediate increase in lick duration variability, as well as more rapid extinction. These results suggest that the level of dopamine can modulate the persistence and pattern generation of a highly stereotyped consummatory behavior like licking, as well as new learning in response to changes in environmental feedback. Increased dopamine in DAT KO mice not only increased perseveration of bouts and individual lick duration, but also increased the behavioral variability in response to the extinction contingency and the rate of extinction.
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