Neural mechanisms regulating different forms of risk-related decision-making: Insights from animal models

Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2015 Nov:58:147-67. doi: 10.1016/j.neubiorev.2015.04.009. Epub 2015 Jun 11.


Over the past 20 years there has been a growing interest in the neural underpinnings of cost/benefit decision-making. Recent studies with animal models have made considerable advances in our understanding of how different prefrontal, striatal, limbic and monoaminergic circuits interact to promote efficient risk/reward decision-making, and how dysfunction in these circuits underlies aberrant decision-making observed in numerous psychiatric disorders. This review will highlight recent findings from studies exploring these questions using a variety of behavioral assays, as well as molecular, pharmacological, neurophysiological, and translational approaches. We begin with a discussion of how neural systems related to decision subcomponents may interact to generate more complex decisions involving risk and uncertainty. This is followed by an overview of interactions between prefrontal-amygdala-dopamine and habenular circuits in regulating choice between certain and uncertain rewards and how different modes of dopamine transmission may contribute to these processes. These data will be compared with results from other studies investigating the contribution of some of these systems to guiding decision-making related to rewards vs. punishment. Lastly, we provide a brief summary of impairments in risk-related decision-making associated with psychiatric disorders, highlighting recent translational studies in laboratory animals.

Keywords: Decision making; Dopamine; Lateral habenula; Mania; Nucleus accumbens; Prefrontal cortex; Punishment; Uncertainty.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Decision Making / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Risk-Taking*
  • Translational Research, Biomedical*