Anabolic-Androgenic Steroids Alter Decision Making in a Balanced Rodent Model of the Iowa Gambling Task

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Anabolic-androgenic steroid (AAS) abuse is implicated in maladaptive decision making such as increased risk taking and problem gambling. Endogenous testosterone correlates with economic risk taking in both the stock market (Coates & Herbert, 2008) and in the laboratory, as measured by the Iowa Gambling Task (Stanton, Liening, & Schultheiss, 2011). Additionally, AAS use has been associated with problem gambling behavior in adolescents (Proimos, DuRant, Pierce, & Goodman, 1998). Thus, AAS may impair economic decision making. However, studies of human AAS users cannot control for preexisting risky behavior or normalize androgen levels. Accordingly, the present study investigated AAS effects on decision making in rats using a novel, balanced rodent model of the IGT. Adolescent male Long-Evans rats were treated chronically with high-dose testosterone (7.5 mg/kg) or vehicle (13% cyclodextrin in water) sc, and trained to work for sugar pellets in an operant chamber equipped with 4 levers, each associated with a different schedule of reward magnitude (number of pellets), probability, and punishment (time-out) duration. By RM-ANOVA, there was a main effect of lever (F3,78 = 25.33, p < .05), such that all rats preferred lever L4 offering a large reward (4 pellets), but with low probability (45%) and a long (35 sec) time-out. There was also a significant interaction of testosterone × lever (F3,78 = 2.78, p < .05), with testosterone increasing preference for L4 and decreasing preference for the other levers, relative to vehicle-treated controls. These data extend our previous findings of altered decision making in AAS-treated rats, and suggest that AAS may alter economic decision making in human users.

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