Mesolimbic dopamine (DA) is a critical component of the brain circuitry regulating behavioral activation and effort-related processes. Although nucleus accumbens (NAc) DA depletions or antagonism leave aspects of appetite and primary food motivation intact, rats with impaired DA transmission reallocate their instrumental behavior away from food-reinforced tasks with high response requirements, and instead select less effortful food-seeking behaviors. Previous work showed that adenosine A2A antagonists can reverse the effects of DA D2 antagonists on effort-related choice, and that stimulation of adenosine A2A receptors produces behavioral effects that are similar to those induced by DA antagonism. The present review summarizes the literature on the role of NAc DA and adenosine in effort-related processes, and also presents original data on the effects of local stimulation of muscarinic acetylcholine receptors in NAc core. Local injections of the muscarinic agonist pilocarpine directly into NAc core produces shifts in effort-related choice behavior similar to those induced by DA antagonism or A2A receptor stimulation, decreasing lever pressing but increasing chow intake in rats responding on a concurrent fixed ratio/chow feeding choice task. In contrast, injections into a neostriatal control site dorsal to the NAc were ineffective. The actions of pilocarpine on this task were attenuated by co-administration of the muscarinic antagonist scopolamine. Thus, drugs that act on DA, adenosine A2A, and muscarinic receptors regulate effort-related choice behavior, which may have implications for the treatment of psychiatric symptoms such as psychomotor slowing, fatigue or anergia that can be observed in depression and other disorders.
Keywords: Behavioral activation; Decision making; Feeding; Motivation; Operant; Reinforcement; Reward.
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