Activity patterns of serotonin neurons underlying cognitive flexibility

Elife. 2017 Mar 21:6:e20552. doi: 10.7554/eLife.20552.


Serotonin is implicated in mood and affective disorders. However, growing evidence suggests that a core endogenous role is to promote flexible adaptation to changes in the causal structure of the environment, through behavioral inhibition and enhanced plasticity. We used long-term photometric recordings in mice to study a population of dorsal raphe serotonin neurons, whose activity we could link to normal reversal learning using pharmacogenetics. We found that these neurons are activated by both positive and negative prediction errors, and thus report signals similar to those proposed to promote learning in conditions of uncertainty. Furthermore, by comparing the cue responses of serotonin and dopamine neurons, we found differences in learning rates that could explain the importance of serotonin in inhibiting perseverative responding. Our findings show how the activity patterns of serotonin neurons support a role in cognitive flexibility, and suggest a revised model of dopamine-serotonin opponency with potential clinical implications.

Keywords: Serotonin; Serotonin-dopamine opponency; Surprise; mouse; neuroscience; perseveration; reversal learning.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Dorsal Raphe Nucleus / physiology*
  • Mice
  • Reversal Learning*
  • Serotonergic Neurons / physiology*