Serotonin and dopamine play complementary roles in gambling to recover losses

Abstract

Continued gambling to recover losses—'loss chasing'—is a prominent feature of social and pathological gambling. However, little is known about the neuromodulators that influence this behavior. In three separate experiments, we investigated the role of serotonin activity, D2/D3 receptor activity, and beta-adrenoceptor activity on the loss chasing of age and IQ-matched healthy adults randomized to treatment or an appropriate control/placebo. In Experiment 1, participants consumed amino-acid drinks that did or did not contain the serotonin precursor, tryptophan. In Experiment 2, participants received a single 176??g dose of the D2/D3 receptor agonist, pramipexole, or placebo. In Experiment 3, participants received a single 80?mg dose of the beta-adrenoceptor blocker, propranolol, or placebo. Following treatment, participants completed a computerized loss-chasing game. Mood and heart rate were measured at baseline and following treatment. Tryptophan depletion significantly reduced the number of decisions made to chase losses, and the number of consecutive decisions to chase, in the absence of marked changes in mood. By contrast, pramipexole significantly increased the value of losses chased and diminished the value of losses surrendered. Propranolol markedly reduced heart rate, but produced no significant changes in loss-chasing behavior. Loss chasing can be thought of as an aversively motivated escape behavior controlled, in part, by the marginal value of continued gambling relative to the value of already accumulated losses. Serotonin and dopamine appear to play dissociable roles in the tendency of individuals to gamble to recover, or to seek to 'escape' from, previous losses. Serotonergic activity seems to promote the availability of loss chasing as a behavioral option, whereas D2/D3 receptor activity produces complex changes in the value of losses judged worth chasing. Sympathetic arousal, at least as mediated by beta-adrenoceptors, does not play a major role in laboratory-based loss-chasing choices.

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