5-Hydroxytryptamine and interval timing behaviour

Pharmacol Biochem Behav. 2002 Apr;71(4):773-85. doi: 10.1016/s0091-3057(01)00672-4.


Interval timing behaviour is revealed by prospective, immediate and retrospective timing schedules. Prospective timing tasks are used to study intertemporal choice (choice between outcomes occurring after different delays), immediate timing tasks to study temporal differentiation (temporal regulation of the animal's behaviour) and retrospective timing tasks to study temporal discrimination (discrimination between the durations of external events). Central 5-hydroxytryptamine (5-HT) depletion promotes preference for small early reinforcers over large delayed reinforcers, possibly by facilitating the time-dependent degradation of reinforcer value. Central 5-HT depletion retards the learning of temporal differentiation, and increases the variability of timing in some immediate timing tasks; however, it does not impede (in some cases it facilitates) the acquisition of temporal discrimination. Attempts to ascribe all the effects of 5-HT depletion on timing to a single behavioural process have been unsuccessful, although disinhibition of switching between operant responses may account for some of the findings. Acute treatment with drugs affecting 5-HTergic mechanisms alters timing behaviour in qualitatively different ways in different timing schedules, casting doubt on the idea that the effects of these drugs are mediated by interaction with a unitary timing process. The receptors that mediate 5-HT's putative involvement in interval timing behaviour remain to be identified.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Conditioning, Operant / drug effects
  • Humans
  • Serotonin / physiology*
  • Time Perception / drug effects*


  • Serotonin