Large-N Rat Data Enables Phenotyping of Risky Decision-Making: A Retrospective Analysis of Brain Injury on the Rodent Gambling Task

Front Behav Neurosci. 2022 Apr 25;16:837654. doi: 10.3389/fnbeh.2022.837654. eCollection 2022.


Decision-making is substantially altered after brain injuries. Patients and rats with brain injury are more likely to make suboptimal, and sometimes risky choices. Such changes in decision-making may arise from alterations in how sensitive individuals are to outcomes. To assess this, we compiled and harmonized a large dataset from four studies of TBI, each of which evaluated behavior on the Rodent Gambling Task (RGT). We then determined whether the following were altered: (1) sensitivity to overall contingencies, (2) sensitivity to immediate outcomes, or (3) general choice phenotypes. Overall sensitivity was evaluated using the matching law, immediate sensitivity by looking at the probability of switching choices given a win or loss, and choice phenotypes by k-means clustering. We found significant reductions in sensitivity to the overall outcomes and a bias toward riskier alternatives in TBI rats. However, the substantial individual variability led to poor overall fits in matching analyses. We also found that TBI caused a significant reduction in the tendency to repeatedly choose a given option, but no difference in win- or loss-specific sensitivity. Finally, clustering revealed 5 distinct decision-making phenotypes and TBI reduced membership in the "optimal" type. The current findings support a hypothesis that TBI reduces sensitivity to contingencies. However, in the case of tasks such as the RGT, this is not a simple shift to indiscriminate or less discriminate responding. Rather, TBI rats are more likely to develop suboptimal preferences and frequently switch choices. Treatments will have to consider how this behavior might be corrected.

Keywords: Iowa Gambling Task (IGT); controlled cortical impact (CCI); impulsivity; rat; statistical approaches.