Serotonin shapes risky decision making in monkeys.
Some people love taking risks, while others avoid gambles at all costs. The neural mechanisms underlying individual variation in preference for risky or certain outcomes, however, remain poorly understood. Although behavioral pathologies associated with compulsive gambling, addiction and other psychiatric disorders implicate deficient serotonin signaling in pathological decision making, there is little experimental evidence demonstrating a link between serotonin and risky decision making, in part due to the lack of a good animal model. We used dietary rapid tryptophan depletion (RTD) to acutely lower brain serotonin in three macaques performing a simple gambling task for fluid rewards. To confirm the efficacy of RTD experiments, we measured total plasma tryptophan using high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC) with electrochemical detection. Reducing brain serotonin synthesis decreased preference for the safe option in a gambling task. Moreover, lowering brain serotonin function significantly decreased the premium required for monkeys to switch their preference to the risky option, suggesting that diminished serotonin signaling enhances the relative subjective value of the risky option. These results implicate serotonin in risk-sensitive decision making and, further, suggest pharmacological therapies for treating pathological risk preferences in disorders such as problem gambling and addiction.
Long, AB; Kuhn, CM; Platt, ML
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