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Concept: Brain stimulation reward


Neurobiological research in autism spectrum disorders (ASD) has paid little attention on brain mechanisms that cause and maintain restricted and repetitive behaviors and interests (RRBIs). Evidence indicates an imbalance in the brain’s reward system responsiveness to social and non-social stimuli may contribute to both social deficits and RRBIs. Thus, this study’s central aim was to compare brain responsiveness to individual RRBI (i.e., circumscribed interests), with social rewards (i.e., social approval), in youth with ASD relative to typically developing controls (TDCs).

Concepts: Psychology, Autism, Pervasive developmental disorder, Asperger syndrome, Autism spectrum, Sociological and cultural aspects of autism, Reward system, Brain stimulation reward


Disorderly resolution of conflict is costly, whereas orderly resolution by consent rules enables quick settlement. However, it is unclear whether non-human animals can make and observe rules to resolve conflict without aggression. Here we report a new behavioral paradigm for mice: a modified two-armed maze that uses wireless electrical brain stimulation as reward. First, the mice were individually operant-trained to initiate and then receive the reward at the signaled arm. Next, two mice were coupled and had to cooperate to initiate reward but then to compete over reward allocation. Mice develop and observe a rule of reward zone allocation that increases the total amount of reward and reward equity between the pair. In the mutual rule-observance behavior, positive reciprocity and tolerance to the other’s violation are also observed. These findings suggest that rodents can learn to make and observe rules to resolve conflict, enhancing long-term benefit and payoff equity.

Concepts: Psychology, Observation, Philosophy of science, Behavior, Motivation, Reciprocity, Brain stimulation reward, The Reward


Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a complex neurodevelopmental condition, and multiple theories have emerged concerning core social deficits. While the social motivation hypothesis proposes that deficits in the social reward system cause individuals with ASD to engage less in social interaction, the overly intense world hypothesis (sensory over-responsivity) proposes that individuals with ASD find stimuli to be too intense and may have hypersensitivity to social interaction, leading them to avoid these interactions.

Concepts: Sociology, Autism, Pervasive developmental disorder, Asperger syndrome, Autism spectrum, Motivation, Reward system, Brain stimulation reward


Where and how does the brain code reward during social behavior? Almost all elements of the brain’s reward circuit are modulated during social behavior. The striatum in particular is activated by rewards in social situations. However, its role in social behavior is still poorly understood. Here, we attempt to review its participation in social behaviors of different species ranging from voles to humans. Human fMRI experiments show that the striatum is reliably active in relation to others' rewards, to reward inequity and also while learning about social agents. Social contact and rearing conditions have long-lasting effects on behavior, striatal anatomy and physiology in rodents and primates. The striatum also plays a critical role in pair-bond formation and maintenance in monogamous voles. We review recent findings from single neuron recordings showing that the striatum contains cells that link own reward to self or others' actions. These signals might be used to solve the agency-credit assignment problem: the question of whose action was responsible for the reward. Activity in the striatum has been hypothesized to integrate actions with rewards. The picture that emerges from this review is that the striatum is a general-purpose subcortical region capable of integrating social information into coding of social action and reward.

Concepts: Psychology, Sociology, Human anatomy, Motivation, Human behavior, Reward system, Social behavior, Brain stimulation reward


The snack food potato chips induces food intake in ad libitum fed rats, which is associated with modulation of the brain reward system and other circuits. Here, we show that food intake in satiated rats is triggered by an optimal fat/carbohydrate ratio. Like potato chips, an isocaloric fat/carbohydrate mixture influenced whole brain activity pattern of rats, affecting circuits related e.g. to reward/addiction, but the number of modulated areas and the extent of modulation was lower compared to the snack food itself.

Concepts: Brain, Energy, Potato, Reward system, Snack foods, Meal, Brain stimulation reward, Potato chip


Reports of abuse and toxic effects of synthetic cathinones, frequently sold as ‘bath salts’ or ‘legal highs’, have increased dramatically in recent years. One of the most widely used synthetic cathinones is 3,4-methylenedioxypyrovalerone (MDPV). The current study evaluated the abuse potential of MDPV by assessing its ability to support intravenous self-administration and to lower thresholds for intracranial self-stimulation (ICSS) in rats. In the first experiment, the rats were trained to intravenously self-administer MDPV in daily 2-hour sessions for 10 days at doses of 0.05, 0.1 or 0.2 mg/kg per infusion. The rats were then allowed to self-administer MDPV under a progressive ratio (PR) schedule of reinforcement. Next, the rats self-administered MDPV for an additional 10 days under short access (ShA; 2 hours/day) or long access (LgA; 6 hours/day) conditions to assess escalation of intake. A separate group of rats underwent the same procedures, with the exception of self-administering methamphetamine (0.05 mg/kg per infusion) instead of MDPV. In the second experiment, the effects of MDPV on ICSS thresholds following acute administration (0.1, 0.5, 1 and 2 mg/kg, i.p.) were assessed. MDPV maintained self-administration across all doses tested. A positive relationship between MDPV dose and breakpoints for reinforcement under PR conditions was observed. LgA conditions led to escalation of drug intake at 0.1 and 0.2 mg/kg doses, and rats self-administering methamphetamine showed similar patterns of escalation. Finally, MDPV significantly lowered ICSS thresholds at all doses tested. Together, these findings indicate that MDPV has reinforcing properties and activates brain reward circuitry, suggesting a potential for abuse and addiction in humans.

Concepts: Drug addiction, Addiction, Operant conditioning, Reward system, Reinforcement, Cathinones, Brain stimulation reward, Cathine


Pathological gambling is an addictive disorder characterized by a persistent and compulsive desire to engage in gambling activities. This maladaptive behaviour has been suggested to result from a decreased sensitivity to experienced rewards, regardless of reward type. Alternatively, pathological gambling might reflect an imbalance in the sensitivity to monetary versus non-monetary incentives. To directly test these two hypotheses, we examined how the brain reward circuit of pathological gamblers responds to different types of rewards. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging, we compared the brain responses of 18 pathological gamblers and 20 healthy control subjects while they engaged in a simple incentive task manipulating both monetary and visual erotic rewards. During reward anticipation, the ventral striatum of pathological gamblers showed a differential response to monetary versus erotic cues, essentially driven by a blunted reactivity to cues predicting erotic stimuli. This differential response correlated with the severity of gambling symptoms and was paralleled by a reduced behavioural motivation for erotic rewards. During reward outcome, a posterior orbitofrontal cortex region, responding to erotic rewards in both groups, was further recruited by monetary gains in pathological gamblers but not in control subjects. Moreover, while ventral striatal activity correlated with subjective ratings assigned to monetary and erotic rewards in control subjects, it only correlated with erotic ratings in gamblers. Our results point to a differential sensitivity to monetary versus non-monetary rewards in pathological gambling, both at the motivational and hedonic levels. Such an imbalance might create a bias towards monetary rewards, potentially promoting addictive gambling behaviour.

Concepts: Brain, Magnetic resonance imaging, Addiction, Motivation, Reward system, Reinforcement, Brain stimulation reward, Problem gambling


Animal models of decision-making rely on an animal’s motivation to decide and its ability to detect differences among various alternatives. Food reinforcement, although commonly used, is associated with problematic confounds, especially satiety. Here, we examined the use of brain stimulation reward (BSR) as an alternative reinforcer in rodent models of decision-making and compared it with the effectiveness of sugar pellets. The discriminability of various BSR frequencies was compared to differing numbers of sugar pellets in separate free-choice tasks. We found that BSR was more discriminable and motivated greater task engagement and more consistent preference for the larger reward. We then investigated whether rats prefer BSR of varying frequencies over sugar pellets. We found that animals showed either a clear preference for sugar reward or no preference between reward modalities, depending on the frequency of the BSR alternative and the size of the sugar reward. Overall, these results suggest that BSR is an effective reinforcer in rodent decision-making tasks, removing food-related confounds and resulting in more accurate, consistent, and reliable metrics of choice.

Concepts: Perception, Motivation, Choice, Preference, Reward system, Reinforcement, Reward, Brain stimulation reward


Internet pornography is a multi-billion-dollar industry that has grown increasingly accessible. Delay discounting involves devaluing larger, later rewards in favor of smaller, more immediate rewards. The constant novelty and primacy of sexual stimuli as particularly strong natural rewards make Internet pornography a unique activator of the brain’s reward system, thereby having implications for decision-making processes. Based on theoretical studies of evolutionary psychology and neuroeconomics, two studies tested the hypothesis that consuming Internet pornography would relate to higher rates of delay discounting. Study 1 used a longitudinal design. Participants completed a pornography use questionnaire and a delay discounting task at Time 1 and then again four weeks later. Participants reporting higher initial pornography use demonstrated a higher delay discounting rate at Time 2, controlling for initial delay discounting. Study 2 tested for causality with an experimental design. Participants were randomly assigned to abstain from either their favorite food or pornography for three weeks. Participants who abstained from pornography use demonstrated lower delay discounting than participants who abstained from their favorite food. The finding suggests that Internet pornography is a sexual reward that contributes to delay discounting differently than other natural rewards. Theoretical and clinical implications of these studies are highlighted.

Concepts: Longitudinal study, Experimental design, Causality, Experiment, Repeated measures design, Reward system, Pornography, Brain stimulation reward


Deep brain stimulation (DBS) as a putative approach for treatment resistant depression (TRD) has now been researched for about a decade. Several uncontrolled studies-all in relatively small patient populations and different target regions-have shown clinically relevant antidepressant effects in about half of the patients and very recently, DBS to a key structure of the reward system, the medial forebrain bundle, has yielded promising results within few days of stimulation and at much lower stimulation intensities. On the downside, DBS procedures in regions are associated with surgical risks (eg hemorrhage) and psychiatric complications (suicidal attenuation, hypomania) as well as high costs. This overview summarizes research on the mechanisms of brain networks with respect to psychiatric diseases and-as a novelty -extrapolates to the role of the reward system in DBS for patients with treatment resistant depression. It further evaluates relevant methodological aspects of today’s research in DBS for TRD. On the scientific side the reward system plays an important yet clearly under recognized role in both neurobiology and treatment of depression. On the methodological side of DBS research in TRD, better animal models are clearly needed to explain clinical effects of DBS in TRD. Larger sample sizes, long-term follow-up and designs including blinded sham control are required to draw final conclusions on efficacy and side effects. Practical research issues cover study design, patient tracking, and the discussion of meaningful secondary outcomemeasures.Neuropsychopharmacology accepted article preview online, 11 February 2014; doi:10.1038/npp.2014.28.

Concepts: Scientific method, Medicine, Deep brain stimulation, Reward system, Brain stimulation reward, Treatment-resistant depression, Medial forebrain bundle, Pleasure center