Acute ethanol administration can cause impulsivity, resulting in increased preference for immediately available rewards over delayed but more valuable alternatives. The manner in which reward size and delay are represented in neural firing is not fully understood, and very little is known about ethanol effects on this encoding. To address this issue, we used in vivo electrophysiology to characterize neural firing in the core of the nucleus accumbens (NAcc) in rats responding for rewards that varied in size or delay after vehicle or ethanol administration. The NAcc is a central element in the circuit that governs decision-making and importantly, promotes choice of delayed rewards. We found that NAcc firing in response to reward-predictive cues encoded anticipated reward value after vehicle administration, but ethanol administration disrupted this encoding, resulting in a loss of discrimination between immediate and delayed rewards in cue-evoked neural responses. In addition, NAcc firing occurring at the time of the operant response (lever pressing) was inversely correlated with behavioral response latency, such that increased firing rates were associated with decreased latencies to lever press. Ethanol administration selectively attenuated this lever press-evoked firing when delayed but not immediate rewards were expected. These effects on neural firing were accompanied by increased behavioral latencies to respond for delayed rewards. Our results suggest that ethanol effects on NAcc cue- and lever press-evoked encoding may contribute to ethanol-induced impulsivity.
- delay discounting
- Copyright © 2016 the American Physiological Society
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