Rationale: The ability to adjust response strategies when faced with changes in the environment is critical for normal adaptive behavior. Such behavioral flexibility is compromised by experimental disruption of cortical GABAergic signaling, as well as in conditions such as schizophrenia and normal aging that are characterized by cortical hyperexcitability. The current studies were designed to determine whether stimulation of GABAergic signaling using the GABA(B) receptor agonist baclofen can facilitate behavioral flexibility.
Methods: Male Fischer 344 rats were trained in a set-shifting task in which they learned to discriminate between two response levers to obtain a food reward. Correct levers were signaled in accordance with two distinct response rules (rule 1: correct lever signaled by a cue light; rule 2: correct lever signaled by its left/right position). The order of rule presentation varied, but they were always presented sequentially, with the trials and errors to reach criterion performance on the second (set shift) rule providing the measure of behavioral flexibility. Experiments determined the effects of the GABA(B) receptor agonist baclofen (intraperitoneal, 0, 1.0, 2.5, and 4.0 mg/kg) administered acutely before the shift to the second rule.
Results: Baclofen enhanced set-shifting performance. Control experiments demonstrated that this enhancement was not simply due to improved discrimination learning, nor was it due to impaired recall of the initial discrimination rule.
Conclusions: The results demonstrate that baclofen can facilitate behavioral flexibility, suggesting that GABA(B) receptor agonists may have utility for treating behavioral dysfunction in neuropsychiatric disorders.
Keywords: Baclofen; Behavioral flexibility; GABA(B) receptor; Prefrontal cortex; Set shifting.