Background: Repeated studies have shown that high impulsivity, when defined as the tendency to choose small immediate rewards over larger delayed rewards, is more prevalent in drug addicts and alcoholics when compared with nonaddicts. Assessing whether impulsivity precedes and potentially causes addiction disorders is difficult in humans because they all share a history of drug use. In this study, we address this question by testing alcohol-naïve mice from lines showing heritable differences in alcohol intake.
Methods: Replicated selected lines of outbred high-alcohol preferring (HAP) mice were compared to a low-alcohol preferring (LAP) line as well as the low-drinking progenitor line (HS/Ibg) on an adjusting amount delay discounting (DD) task. The DD task employs 2 levers to present subjects with a choice between a small, immediate and a large, delayed saccharin reward. By adjusting the quantity of the immediate reward up and down based on choice behavior, the task allows an estimate of how the subjective value of the delayed reinforcer decreases as delays increase. Latency to respond was also measured for each trial.
Results: Both HAP2 and HAP1 lines of mice were more impulsive than the LAP2 and HS/Ibg lines, respectively. Hyperbolic curve-fitting confirmed steeper discounting in the high-alcohol drinking lines. In addition, the high-alcohol drinking lines demonstrated greater within-session increases in reaction times relative to the low-alcohol drinking lines. No other differences (consumption of saccharin, total trials completed) consistently mapped onto genetic differences in alcohol drinking.
Conclusions: Alcohol-naïve outbred mice selected for high-alcohol drinking were more impulsive with saccharin reinforcers than low-alcohol drinkers. These data are consistent with results seen using inbred strain descendents of high-alcohol drinking and low-alcohol drinking rat lines, and suggest that impulsivity is a heritable difference that precedes alcoholism.