Abstract: The Role of Pharmacological Agents and Neurotransmitters on Risky Reward Decisions by Rats

Hi Everyone!

My name is Austin Tapp and I am a sophomore at the College.  This is my second summer conducting research for the Neuroscience Department and I can’t wait to continue my work from this past year!  My research will continue to focus on the study of probability discounting and the extent to which individuals discount risky reward, specifically when exposed to different concentrations of pharmacological agents and neurotransmitters.

Probability discounting is typically assessed in paradigms that only offer two choices: one choice which is a small and immediate reward or one which is a large and delayed reward.  My current research is focused on training for a novel probability discounting task that will consist of three (or more) choices:  one reward which is small and immediate, one which is large and delayed and one which is even larger and even more delayed.

In addition, it has previously been shown that nicotine and other muscarinic cholinergic agonists can increase risky decision-making in probability discounting tasks. I will be researching the extent to which agonists, like nicotine, and antagonists, like scopolamine, produce similar effects on risky decision making when introduced at varying concentrations for multiple risky rewards.

It has been shown that two choice probability discounting tasks involve areas of the brain such as the amygdala and orbitofrontal cortex, which are involved with decision making.  By extending my delay discounting test to a  3-choice task, I hope to identify parts of the brain involved in higher level and complex decision making. Identifying these areas of the brain could help to pinpoint other areas of the limbic system that are involved with impulsivity.  The different effects on these areas when pharmacological agents are introduced may have implications of possible symptom relief for impulsitivity related diseases and disorders.

Thanks for reading, and if you want to check out some related studies I’ve provided a few articles below!