Assessment of reward responsiveness in the response bias probabilistic reward task in rats: implications for cross-species translational research

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Mood disorders, such as major depressive disorder, are characterized by abnormal reward responsiveness. The Response Bias Probabilistic Reward Task (hereafter referred to as probabilistic reward task (PRT)) quantifies reward responsiveness in human subjects, and an equivalent animal assessment is needed to facilitate preclinical translational research. Thus, the goals of the present studies were to develop, validate and characterize a rat analog of the PRT. Adult male Wistar and Long–Evans rats were trained in operant testing chambers to discriminate between two tone stimuli that varied in duration (0.5 and 2 s). During a subsequent test session consisting of 100 trials, the two tones were made ambiguous (0.9 and 1.6 s) and correct identification of one tone was reinforced with a food pellet three times more frequently than the other tone. In subsequent experiments, Wistar rats were administered either a low dose of the dopamine D2/D3 receptor agonist pramipexole (0.1 mg kg−1, subcutaneous) or the psychostimulant amphetamine (0.5 mg kg−1, intraperitoneal) before the test session. Similar to human subjects, both rat strains developed a response bias toward the more frequently reinforced stimulus, reflecting robust reward responsiveness. Mirroring prior findings in humans, a low dose of pramipexole blunted response bias. Moreover, in rats, amphetamine potentiated response bias. These results indicate that in rats, reward responsiveness can be quantified and bidirectionally modulated by pharmacological manipulations that alter striatal dopamine transmission. Thus, this new procedure in rats, which is conceptually and procedurally analogous to the one used in humans, provides a reverse translational platform to investigate abnormal reward responsiveness across species.

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