Genetic and Modeling Approaches Reveal Distinct Components of Impulsive Behavior

Neuropsychopharmacology. 2017 May;42(6):1182-1191. doi: 10.1038/npp.2016.277. Epub 2016 Dec 15.


Impulsivity is an endophenotype found in many psychiatric disorders including substance use disorders, pathological gambling, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Two behavioral features often considered in impulsive behavior are behavioral inhibition (impulsive action) and delayed gratification (impulsive choice). However, the extent to which these behavioral constructs represent distinct facets of behavior with discrete biological bases is unclear. To test the hypothesis that impulsive action and impulsive choice represent statistically independent behavioral constructs in mice, we collected behavioral measures of impulsivity in a single cohort of mice using well-validated operant behavioral paradigms. Mice with manipulation of serotonin 1B receptor (5-HT1BR) expression were included as a model of disordered impulsivity. A factor analysis was used to characterize correlations between the measures of impulsivity and to identify covariates. Using two approaches, we dissociated impulsive action from impulsive choice. First, the absence of 5-HT1BRs caused increased impulsive action, but not impulsive choice. Second, based on an exploratory factor analysis, a two-factor model described the data well, with measures of impulsive action and choice separating into two independent factors. A multiple-indicator multiple-causes analysis showed that 5-HT1BR expression and sex were significant covariates of impulsivity. Males displayed increased impulsivity in both dimensions, whereas 5-HT1BR expression was a predictor of increased impulsive action only. These data support the conclusion that impulsive action and impulsive choice are distinct behavioral phenotypes with dissociable biological influences that can be modeled in mice. Our work may help inform better classification, diagnosis, and treatment of psychiatric disorders, which present with disordered impulsivity.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal / physiology*
  • Delay Discounting / physiology*
  • Disease Models, Animal
  • Female
  • Impulsive Behavior / physiology*
  • Inhibition, Psychological*
  • Male
  • Mice, Transgenic
  • Receptor, Serotonin, 5-HT1B / deficiency
  • Receptor, Serotonin, 5-HT1B / physiology*
  • Sex Factors


  • Receptor, Serotonin, 5-HT1B