Serotonin and tolerance to delay of reward in rats

Psychopharmacology (Berl). 1999 Oct;146(4):400-12. doi: 10.1007/pl00005485.


Rationale: Tolerance to delay of gratification, taken to reflect impulsiveness, has been proposed to be under the preferential control of central serotonin (5-HT) processes.

Objective: The present study further examined the effects of drugs which directly or indirectly alter 5-HT transmission, on behaviour controlled by a delayed positive reinforcer.

Methods: Rats were given the choice in a T-maze between two magnitudes of reward: small (two food pellets) and immediate versus large (ten pellets) but delayed. When a 15-s waiting period was imposed in the arm leading to the large reward, rats selected this arm on 65-70% of the trials. This frequency was reduced to less than 40% when the large reward was delayed by 25 s.

Results: In rats whose ascending 5-HT pathways had been lesioned by infusion of 5,7-dihydroxytryptamine (5,7-DHT) into the dorsal raphe, the introduction of the 15-s delay contingency resulted in a transient larger reduction of the frequency of choice of the now-delayed reward, compared to sham operated controls. In contrast, choice behaviour of rats given 5,7-DHT into the substantia nigra did not differ from controls. para-Chlorophenylalanine (pCPA, 150 mg/kg IP, daily for 3 days), a 5-HT synthesis inhibitor, bretazenil (0.5-8 mg/kg IP), a benzodiazepine (BZD) receptor partial agonist, and muscimol (0.25-1 mg/kg IP), a GABA(A) receptor agonist, induced a shift toward immediate reward. In contrast to the other BZDs, alprazolam (1-2 mg/kg IP) enhanced the frequency of choice of the large-but-25 s-delayed reward. Similar increased preference for the large-but-delayed reward was induced by the selective 5-HT reuptake inhibitors, fluoxetine (4-8 mg/kg IP) and fluvoxamine (4 mg/kg IP). The full 5-HT(1A) receptor agonist, 8-OH-DPAT (0.015-0.5 mg/kg IP) enhanced the frequency of choice of the large reward delayed by 25 s, whereas the partial agonists, buspirone (1-4 mg/kg IP), ipsapirone (0.5-1 mg/kg IP) and MDL 73005EF (1-2 mg/kg SC), and the antagonist, WAY 100635 (4 mg/kg SC), reduced the number of choices of the large reward delayed by 15 s. Unexpectedly, WAY 100635 (2 mg/kg), which had no effect on choice whatever the delay, did not counteract the increased tolerance to delay induced by 8-OH-DPAT (0.06 mg/kg) and further reduced the frequency of choice of the large-but- 15 s-delayed reward induced by ipsapirone (0.5 mg/kg).

Conclusions: These effects on tolerance to delay may be accounted for by a subtle balance between the opposing functional consequences of pre- versus post-synaptic 5-HT(1A) receptor activation or blockade. Overall, the present results provide further support to the idea that 5-HT processes participate in the control of impulsive-related behaviour, as assessed from tolerance to delay of reward in this particular T-maze procedure.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • 5,7-Dihydroxytryptamine
  • Animals
  • Anti-Anxiety Agents / pharmacology
  • Benzodiazepines / pharmacology
  • Fenclonine / pharmacology*
  • Impulsive Behavior / drug therapy*
  • Impulsive Behavior / physiopathology
  • Impulsive Behavior / psychology
  • Male
  • Raphe Nuclei / drug effects*
  • Raphe Nuclei / metabolism
  • Rats
  • Rats, Wistar
  • Reward
  • Serotonin Antagonists / pharmacology*
  • Serotonin Uptake Inhibitors
  • Substantia Nigra / drug effects*
  • Substantia Nigra / metabolism


  • Anti-Anxiety Agents
  • Serotonin Antagonists
  • Serotonin Uptake Inhibitors
  • Benzodiazepines
  • 5,7-Dihydroxytryptamine
  • Fenclonine