Individual differences in the energizing effects of caffeine on effort-based decision-making tests in rats

SanMiguel, Noemí; Pardo, Marta; Carratalá-Ros, Carla; Lopez-Cruz, Laura; Salamone, John D. and Correa, Mercè (2018). Individual differences in the energizing effects of caffeine on effort-based decision-making tests in rats. Pharmacology Biochemistry and Behavior, 169 pp. 27–34.



Motivated behavior is characterized by activation and high work output. Nucleus accumbens (Nacb) modulates behavioral activation and effort-based decision-making. Caffeine is widely consumed because of its energizing properties. This methylxanthine is a non-selective adenosine A1/A2A receptor antagonist. Adenosine receptors are highly concentrated in Nacb. Adenosine agonists injected into Nacb, shift preference towards low effort alternatives. The present studies characterized effort-related effects of caffeine in a concurrent progressive ratio (PROG)/free reinforcer choice procedure that requires high levels of work output, and generates great variability among different animals. Male Sprague-Dawley rats received an acute dose of caffeine (2.5–20.0 mg/kg, IP) and 30 min later were tested in operant boxes. One group was food-restricted and had to lever pressed for high carbohydrate pellets, another group was non-food-restricted and lever pressed for a high sucrose solution. Caffeine (2.5 and 5.0 mg/kg) increased lever pressing in food-restricted animals that were already high responders. However, in non-restricted animals, caffeine (5.0 and 10.0 mg/kg) increased work output only among low responders. In fact, caffeine (10.0 and 20.0 mg/kg) in non-restricted animals, reduced lever pressing among high responders in the PROG task, and also in a different group of animals lever pressing in an easy task (fixed ratio 7 schedule) that uniformly generates high levels of responding. Caffeine did not modify sucrose preference or consumption under free access conditions. Thus, when animals do not have a homeostatic need, caffeine can help those not very intrinsically motivated to work harder for a more palatable reward. However, caffeine can disrupt performance of animals intrinsically motivated to work hard for a better reward.

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