Evidence for the sensitivity of operant timing behaviour to stimulation of D1 dopamine receptors
This experiment examined the effect of destroying central noradrenergic neurones, using the selective neurotoxin DSP4 [N-(2-chloroethyl)-N-ethyl-2-bromobenzylamine], on performance in a free-operant timing schedule. Rats received either systemic treatment with DSP4 or vehicle-alone injections. They were trained to press levers for a sucrose reinforcer. Training sessions consisted of 40, 50-s trials in which reinforcers were available on a variable-interval 25-s schedule; in the first 25 s of each trial, reinforcers were only available for responses on lever A, whereas in the last 25 s reinforcers were available only for responses on lever B. Data were collected from probe trials (four per session), in which no reinforcers were delivered, during the last ten of 60 training sessions. Both groups showed decreasing response rates on lever A, and increasing response rates on lever B, as a function of time from the onset of the trial. Quantitative indices of timing behaviour were derived from a two-parameter logistic function fitted to the relative response rates on lever B (response rate on lever B, expressed as a percentage of overall response rate); this function accounted for > 90% of the data variance in each group. The DSP4-treated group showed a significantly lower value of the indifference point (i.e. the time corresponding to 50% responding on lever B) than the control group. The slope of the function and the rate of switching between response alternatives did not differ significantly between the two groups. The concentrations of noradrenaline were markedly reduced in the neocortex and hippocampus of the DSP4-treated group, but the concentrations of dopamine, 5-hydroxytryptamine and 5-hydroxyindoleacetic acid were not significantly altered. It is suggested that results may be consistent with a role of the dorsal ascending noradrenergic pathway in behavioural “arousal”.