Similar to other addiction disorders, the cues inherent in many gambling procedures are thought to play an important role in mediating their addictive nature. Animal models of gambling-related behavior, while capturing dimensions of economic decision making, have yet to address the impact that these salient cues may have in promoting maladaptive choice. Here, we determined whether adding win-associated audiovisual cues to a rat gambling task (rGT) would influence decision making. Thirty-two male Long–Evans rats were tested on either the cued or uncued rGT. In these tasks, animals chose between four options associated with different magnitudes and frequencies of reward and punishing time-out periods. As in the Iowa Gambling Task, favoring options associated with smaller per-trial rewards but smaller losses and avoiding the tempting “high-risk, high-reward” decks maximized profits. Although the reinforcement contingencies were identical in both task versions, rats' choice of the disadvantageous risky options was significantly greater on the cued task. Furthermore, a D3 receptor agonist increased choice of the disadvantageous options, whereas a D3 antagonist had the opposite effects, only on the cued task. These findings are consistent with the reported role of D3 receptors in mediating the facilitatory effects of cues in addiction. Collectively, these results indicate that the cued rGT is a valuable model with which to study the mechanism by which salient cues can invigorate maladaptive decision making, an important and understudied component of both gambling and substance use disorders.
SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT - We used a rodent analog of the Iowa Gambling Task to determine whether the addition of audiovisual cues would affect choice preferences. Adding reward-concurrent cues significantly increased risky choice. This is the first clear demonstration that reward-paired cues can bias cost/benefit decision making against a subject's best interests in a manner concordant with elevated addiction susceptibility. Choice on the cued task was uniquely sensitive to modulation by D3 receptor ligands, yet these drugs did not alter decision making on the uncued task. The relatively unprecedented sensitivity of choice on the cued task to D3-receptor-mediated neurotransmission data suggest that similar neurobiological processes underlie the ability of cues to both bias animals toward risky options and facilitate drug addiction.