, Volume 86, Issue 1-2, pp 147-152

Benzodiazepines reduce the tolerance to reward delay in rats

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This study investigated whether benzodiazepines reduce the capacity of animals to wait for food reward. Rats trained in a T-maze were allowed to choose between two magnitudes of reward: immediate, but small (two pellets) vs delayed, but large (eight pellets). The rats learned within ten sessions to select (80–100%) the arm leading to the largest reward. Separate groups of rats were then confined for 15, 30 or 60 s in the arm associated with the largest reward before gaining access to the spacially contiguous goal-box. The choice of the other arm was not followed by a period of waiting. Under these conditions, the frequency with which the small-reward arm was chosen increased linearly as a function of the duration of the waiting period. Diazepam (2–4 mg/kg IP) dose-dependently increased the number of times the small-reward arm was chosen during the sessions for which the waiting period was fixed at 15 or 30 s. Nitrazepam (2 mg/kg IP), chlordiazepoxide (16 mg/kg IP) and clobazam (16 mg/kg IP) had similar effects. The action of diazepam was counteracted by simultaneous administration of flumazepil (Ro 15-1788, 8 mg/kg PO). In the absence of confinement, these benzodiazepines, diazepam (4 mg/kg) excepted, did not modify selection of the large-reward arm. Conversely, the serotonin uptake blockers indalpine (2–4 mg/kg IP) and zimelidine (8–16 mg/kg IP) dose-dependently increased preference for the arm leading to the delayed (25 s) but large reward.

These results suggest that benzodiazepines, perhaps by increasing impulsivity, render the animals less prone than controls to tolerate delayed access to reward. It is hypothesized that serotonergic neurons play a crucial role in impulse control and in the benzodiazepines-induced shift towards the immediate reward.