Evaluating the impact of Naltrexone on the rat gambling task to test its predictive validity for gambling disorder

Abstract

Gambling Disorder has serious consequences and no medications are currently approved for the treatment of this disorder. One factor that may make medication development difficult is the lack of animal models of gambling that would allow for the pre-clinical screening of efficacy. Despite this, there is evidence from clinical trials that opiate antagonists, in particular naltrexone, may be useful in treating gambling disorder. To-date, the effects of naltrexone on pre-clinical models of gambling have not been evaluated. The purpose of the present study was to evaluate the effects of naltrexone in an animal model of gambling, the rat gambling task (rGT), to determine whether this model has some predictive validity. The rGT is a model in which rats are given a choice of making either a response that produces a large reward or a small reward. The larger the reward, the greater the punishment, and thus this task requires that the animal inhibit the 'tempting' choice, as the smaller reward option produces overall the most number of rewards per session. People with gambling disorder chose the tempting option more, thus the rGT may provide a model of problem gambling. It was found that naltrexone improved performance on this task in a subset of animals that chose the 'tempting', disadvantageous choice, more at baseline. Thus, the results of this study suggest that the rGT should be further investigated as a pre-clinical model of gambling disorder and that further investigation into whether opioid antagonists are effective in treating Gambling Disorder may be warranted.

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