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Monday, July 16, 2012

Risk preference following adolescent alcohol use is associated with corrupted encoding of costs but not rewards by mesolimbic dopamine

Several emerging theories of addiction have described how abused substances exploit vulnerabilities in decision-making processes. These vulnerabilities have been proposed to result from pharmacologically corrupted neural mechanisms of normal brain valuation systems.

High alcohol intake in rats during adolescence has been shown to increase risk preference, leading to suboptimal performance on a decision-making task when tested in adulthood. Understanding how alcohol use corrupts decision making in this way has significant clinical implications. However, the underlying mechanism by which alcohol use increases risk preference remains unclear.

To address this central issue, we assessed dopamine neurotransmission with fast-scan cyclic voltammetry during reward valuation and risk-based decision making in rats with and without a history of adolescent alcohol intake. We specifically targeted the mesolimbic dopamine system, the site of action for virtually all abused substances. This system, which continuously develops during the adolescent period, is central to both reward processing and risk-based decision making.

We report that a history of adolescent alcohol use alters dopamine signaling to risk but not to reward. Thus, a corruption of cost encoding suggests that adolescent alcohol use leads to long-term changes in decision making by altering the valuation of risk.

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