Dissociable contribution of nucleus accumbens and dorsolateral striatum to the acquisition of risk choice behavior in the rat

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Abstract

While a growing body of research has suggested that the mesocorticolimbic dopamine systems play a key role in decision making under risk, how the nucleus accumbens (NAC) is involved in the acquisition of risk choice behavior remains unclear. This study used a T-maze task to assess risk-based decision making in which the rat was required to assess the risk by choosing to enter either a small and certain reward arm or a large but uncertain reward arm of the maze. The latter option, when chosen, resulted in provision of 2, 4, or 8 sweeten pellets with a probability (p) of 0.5, 0.25, or 0.125, respectively. Thus the latter arm provided three different conditions of reward ratio, compared to the choice of former arm, which always provided 1 pellet with p = 1. This risk choice task was then run with the expected value being equality between the binary choice options. The experimental rats first received an excitoneurotoxic lesion affecting either the NAC or the dorsolateral striatum (DLS) and this was followed by post-lesion behavioral examination. The sham lesion control rats acquired a stable risk choice with regard to each reward ratio over a 10-day test. The pattern of choice behavior appeared in risk-seeking when p = 0.5 to obtain 2 pellets, and was risk-averse when larger reward resulted in lower p. The NAC lesion significantly disrupted the acquisition of the aforementioned risk choice behavior and apparently shifted the choice into a risk-averse style for all three reward ratios. No such effect was observed in the rats with DLS lesions. Neither the gross motor action nor the discrimination of different reward magnitudes was impaired by the lesions affecting either the NAC or DLS as assessed by an additional experiment. These findings suggest that firstly there is heterogeneity between NAC and DLS with respect to risk-based decision making, and that secondly the NAC is involved and critical to the acquisition of behavioral choice under risk, specially when the expected value of the reward under the two choice options is equal.

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