Norepinephrine and dopamine modulate impulsivity on the five-choice serial reaction time task through opponent actions in the shell and core sub-regions of the nucleus accumbens

Neuropsychopharmacology. 2012 Aug;37(9):2057-66. doi: 10.1038/npp.2012.53. Epub 2012 Apr 18.


Impulsive behavior is a hallmark of several neuropsychiatric disorders (eg, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, ADHD). Although dopamine (DA) and norepinephrine (NE) have a significant role in the modulation of impulsivity their neural loci of action is not well understood. Here, we investigated the effects of the selective NE re-uptake inhibitor atomoxetine (ATO) and the mixed DA/NE re-uptake inhibitor methylphenidate (MPH), both with proven clinical efficacy in ADHD, on the number of premature responses on a five-choice serial reaction time task, an operational measure of impulsivity. Microinfusions of ATO into the shell, but not the core, sub-region of the nucleus accumbens (NAcb) significantly decreased premature responding whereas infusions of MPH in the core, but not the shell, sub-region significantly increased premature responding. However, neither ATO nor MPH significantly altered impulsive behavior when infused into the prelimbic or infralimbic cortices. The opposing effects of ATO and MPH in the NAcb core and shell on impulsivity were unlikely mediated by ancillary effects on behavioral activation as locomotor activity was either unaffected, as in the case of ATO infusions in the core and shell, or increased when MPH was infused into either the core and shell sub-region. These findings indicate an apparently 'opponent' modulation of premature responses by NE and DA in the NAcb shell or core, respectively, and suggest that the symptom clusters of hyperactive-impulsive type ADHD may have distinct neural and neurochemical substrates.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adrenergic Uptake Inhibitors / administration & dosage
  • Animals
  • Atomoxetine Hydrochloride
  • Choice Behavior / physiology*
  • Dopamine / physiology*
  • Dopamine Uptake Inhibitors / administration & dosage
  • Impulsive Behavior / metabolism*
  • Infusions, Intraventricular
  • Male
  • Methylphenidate / administration & dosage
  • Motor Activity / drug effects
  • Motor Activity / physiology
  • Norepinephrine / antagonists & inhibitors
  • Norepinephrine / physiology*
  • Nucleus Accumbens / physiology*
  • Propylamines / administration & dosage
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology
  • Reaction Time / physiology*


  • Adrenergic Uptake Inhibitors
  • Dopamine Uptake Inhibitors
  • Propylamines
  • Methylphenidate
  • Atomoxetine Hydrochloride
  • Dopamine
  • Norepinephrine