Combination of behaviorally sub-effective doses of glutamate NMDA and dopamine D1 receptor antagonists impairs executive function

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Impairment of executive function is a core feature of schizophrenia. Preclinical studies indicate that injections of either N-methyl d-aspartate (NMDA) or dopamine D1 receptor blockers impair executive function. Despite the prevailing notion based on postmortem findings in schizophrenia that cortical areas have marked suppression of glutamate and dopamine, recent in vivo imaging studies suggest that abnormalities of these neurotransmitters in living patients may be quite subtle. Thus, we hypothesized that modest impairments in both glutamate and dopamine function can act synergistically to cause executive dysfunction. In the present study, we investigated the effect of combined administration of “behaviorally sub-effective” doses of NMDA and dopamine D1 receptor antagonists on executive function. An operant conditioning-based set-shifting task was used to assess behavioral flexibility in rats that were systemically injected with NMDA and dopamine D1 receptor antagonists individually or in combination prior to task performance. Separate injections of the NMDA receptor antagonist, MK-801, and the dopamine D1 receptor antagonist, SCH 23390, at low doses did not impair set-shifting; however, the combined administration of these same behaviorally sub-effective doses of the antagonists significantly impaired the performance during set-shifting without affecting learning, retrieval of the memory of the initial rule, latency of responses or the number of omissions. The combined treatment also produced an increased number of perseverative errors. Our results indicate that NMDA and D1 receptor blockade act synergistically to cause behavioral inflexibility, and as such, subtle abnormalities in glutamatergic and dopaminergic systems may act cooperatively to cause deficits in executive function.

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