Serotonin and aversive Pavlovian control of instrumental behavior in humans

J Neurosci. 2013 Nov 27;33(48):18932-9. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.2749-13.2013.


Adaptive decision-making involves interaction between systems regulating Pavlovian and instrumental control of behavior. Here we investigate in humans the role of serotonin in such Pavlovian-instrumental transfer in both the aversive and the appetitive domain using acute tryptophan depletion, known to lower central serotonin levels. Acute tryptophan depletion attenuated the inhibiting effect of aversive Pavlovian cues on instrumental behavior, while leaving unaltered the activating effect of appetitive Pavlovian cues. These data suggest that serotonin is selectively involved in Pavlovian inhibition due to aversive expectations and have implications for our understanding of the mechanisms underlying a range of affective, impulsive, and aggressive neuropsychiatric disorders.

Keywords: Pavlovian; aversive; inhibition; instrumental; serotonin; tryptophan depletion.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Affect / physiology
  • Amino Acids / metabolism
  • Appetite / physiology
  • Behavior / physiology*
  • Conditioning, Classical / physiology*
  • Cues
  • Data Interpretation, Statistical
  • Decision Making
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Personality Tests
  • Psychometrics
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology
  • Reinforcement, Psychology
  • Serotonergic Neurons / physiology
  • Serotonin / blood
  • Serotonin / physiology*
  • Tryptophan / blood
  • Tryptophan / deficiency
  • Tryptophan / physiology
  • Young Adult


  • Amino Acids
  • Serotonin
  • Tryptophan