Serotonin modulates sensitivity to reward and negative feedback in a probabilistic reversal learning task in rats

Neuropsychopharmacology. 2010 May;35(6):1290-301. doi: 10.1038/npp.2009.233. Epub 2010 Jan 27.


Depressed patients show cognitive deficits that may depend on an abnormal reaction to positive and negative feedback. The precise neurochemical mechanisms responsible for such cognitive abnormalities have not yet been clearly characterized, although serotoninergic dysfunction is frequently associated with depression. In three experiments described here, we investigated the effects of different manipulations of central serotonin (5-hydroxytryptamine, 5-HT) levels in rats performing a probabilistic reversal learning task that measures response to feedback. Increasing or decreasing 5-HT tone differentially affected behavioral indices of cognitive flexibility (reversals completed), reward sensitivity (win-stay), and reaction to negative feedback (lose-shift). A single low dose of the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor citalopram (1 mg/kg) resulted in fewer reversals completed and increased lose-shift behavior. By contrast, a single higher dose of citalopram (10 mg/kg) exerted the opposite effect on both measures. Repeated (5 mg/kg, daily, 7 days) and subchronic (10 mg/kg, b.i.d., 5 days) administration of citalopram increased the number of reversals completed by the animals and increased the frequency of win-stay behavior, whereas global 5-HT depletion had the opposite effect on both indices. These results show that boosting 5-HT neurotransmission decreases negative feedback sensitivity and increases reward (positive feedback) sensitivity, whereas reducing it has the opposite effect. However, these effects depend on the nature of the manipulation used: acute manipulations of the 5-HT system modulate negative feedback sensitivity, whereas long-lasting treatments specifically affect reward sensitivity. These results parallel some of the findings in humans on effects of 5-HT manipulations and are relevant to hypotheses of altered response to feedback in depression.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Avoidance Learning / drug effects*
  • Avoidance Learning / physiology
  • Behavior, Animal / drug effects
  • Behavior, Animal / physiology
  • Biofeedback, Psychology / drug effects*
  • Biofeedback, Psychology / physiology
  • Citalopram / pharmacology
  • Cognition Disorders / drug therapy*
  • Cognition Disorders / etiology
  • Cognition Disorders / physiopathology
  • Depressive Disorder / complications*
  • Dose-Response Relationship, Drug
  • Drug Administration Schedule
  • Learning / drug effects*
  • Learning / physiology
  • Male
  • Models, Statistical
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Rats
  • Reward
  • Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors / pharmacology
  • Serotonin / metabolism*
  • Synaptic Transmission / drug effects
  • Synaptic Transmission / physiology
  • Task Performance and Analysis


  • Serotonin Uptake Inhibitors
  • Citalopram
  • Serotonin