Cookies on this website
We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. If you click 'Continue' we'll assume that you are happy to receive all cookies and you won't see this message again. Click 'Find out more' for information on how to change your cookie settings.

The neuromodulator serotonin has been implicated in a large number of affective and executive functions, but its precise contribution to motivation remains unclear. One influential hypothesis has implicated serotonin in aversive processing; another has proposed a more general role for serotonin in behavioral inhibition. Because behavioral inhibition is a prepotent reaction to aversive outcomes, it has been a challenge to reconcile these two accounts. Here, we show that serotonin is critical for punishment-induced inhibition but not overall motor response inhibition or reporting aversive outcomes. We used acute tryptophan depletion to temporarily lower brain serotonin in healthy human volunteers as they completed a novel task designed to obtain separate measures of motor response inhibition, punishment-induced inhibition, and sensitivity to aversive outcomes. After a placebo treatment, participants were slower to respond under punishment conditions compared with reward conditions. Tryptophan depletion abolished this punishment-induced inhibition without affecting overall motor response inhibition or the ability to adjust response bias in line with punishment contingencies. The magnitude of reduction in punishment-induced inhibition depended on the degree to which tryptophan depletion reduced plasma tryptophan levels. These findings extend and clarify previous research on the role of serotonin in aversive processing and behavioral inhibition and fit with current theorizing on the involvement of serotonin in predicting aversive outcomes.

Original publication

DOI

10.1523/JNEUROSCI.2513-09.2009

Type

Journal article

Journal

J Neurosci

Publication Date

23/09/2009

Volume

29

Pages

11993 - 11999

Keywords

Adult, Analysis of Variance, Brain, Double-Blind Method, Female, Humans, Impulsive Behavior, Male, Motor Activity, Neuropsychological Tests, Psychomotor Performance, Punishment, Reaction Time, Serotonin, Task Performance and Analysis, Tryptophan