Examination of the effects of cannabinoid ligands on decision making in a rat gambling task

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Abstract

Although exposure to delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) is perceived to be relatively harmless, mounting evidence has begun to show that it is associated with a variety of cognitive deficits, including poor decision making. THC-induced impairments in decision making are thought to be the result of cannabinoid CB1 receptor activation, and although clinical literature suggests that chronic activation via THC contributes to perturbations in decision making, acute CB1 receptor modulation has yielded mixed results. Using an animal model to examine how CB1-specific ligands impact choice biases would provide significant insight as to how recruitment of the endocannabinoid system may influence decision making. Here, we used the rat gambling task (rGT), a validated analogue of the human Iowa Gambling Task, to assess baseline decision making preferences in male Wistar rats. After acquisition rGT performance was measured. Animals were challenged with the CB1 receptor antagonist rimonabant, the partial agonist THC, and the synthetic agonist WIN55,212-2. Animals were also treated acutely with the fatty acid amide hydrolase (FAAH) inhibitor URB597 to selectively upregulate the endocannabinoid anandamide. Blockade of the CB1 receptor produced a trend improvement in decision making in animals who preferred the advantageous task options, yet left choice unaffected in risk-prone rats. Neither CB1 receptor agonist had strong effects on decision making, but a high dose THC decreased premature responses, whereas WIN55,212-2 did the opposite. URB597 did not affect task performance. These results indicate that although chronic CB1 receptor activation may be associated with impaired decision making, acute modulation has modest effects on choice and instead may play a substantive role in regulating impulsive responding.

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