Increased motor impulsivity in a rat gambling task during chronic ropinirole treatment: potentiation by win-paired audiovisual cues

  • Melanie TremblayEmail author
  • Michael M. Barrus
  • Paul J. Cocker
  • Christelle Baunez
  • Catharine A. WinstanleyEmail author
Original Investigation



Chronic administration of D2/3 receptor agonists ropinirole or pramipexole can increase the choice of uncertain rewards in rats, theoretically approximating iatrogenic gambling disorder (iGD).


We aimed to assess the effect of chronic ropinirole in animal models that attempt to capture critical aspects of commercial gambling, including the risk of losing rather than failing to gain, and the use of win-paired sensory stimuli heavily featured in electronic gambling machines (EGMs).


Male Long–Evans rats learned the rat gambling task (rGT; n = 24), in which animals sample between four options that differ in the magnitude and probability of rewards and time-out punishments. In the cued rGT (n = 40), reward-concurrent audiovisual cues were added that scaled in complexity with win size. Rats were then implanted with an osmotic pump delivering ropinirole (5 mg/kg/day) or saline for 28 days.


Chronic ropinirole did not unequivocally increase preference for more uncertain outcomes in either the cued or uncued rGT. Ropinirole transiently increased premature responses, a measure of motor impulsivity, and this change was larger and more long-lasting in the cued task.


These data suggest that explicitly signaling loss prevents the increase in preference for uncertain rewards caused by D2/3 receptor agonists observed previously. The ability of win-paired cues to amplify ropinirole-induced increases in motor impulsivity may explain why compulsive use of EGMs is particularly common in iGD. These data offer valuable insight into the cognitive–behavioral mechanisms through which chronic dopamine agonist treatments may induce iGD and related impulse control disorders.


Iowa gambling task Impulsivity Risky choice Decision-making Gambling disorder Dopamine agonist 


Funding information

This work was supported by an operating grant awarded to CAW from the Canadian Institutes for Health Research (CIHR), a pilot grant from Parkinson Society Canada, and ERA-NET NEURON (STNDBS-ICD) funding to CB and CAW. CAW also received salary support through the Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research and the CIHR New Investigator Award program. MT was supported by a CIHR Doctoral Award. MMB was supported by a Doctoral Four-Year Fellowship (4YF) provided by The University of British Columbia.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

In the past 3 years, CAW has consulted for Hogan Lovells LLP and received due compensation. The authors confirm they have no other conflicts of interest or financial disclosures to make.


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Psychology, Djavad Mowafaghian Centre for Brain HealthUniversity of British ColumbiaVancouverCanada
  2. 2.Department of Pharmacology and ToxicologyUniversity of TorontoTorontoCanada
  3. 3.Department of Experimental PsychologyUniversity of CambridgeCambridgeUK
  4. 4.Institut de Neurosciences de la Timone (INT), UMR7289, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS) ∓ Aix-Marseille Université (AMU)MarseilleFrance

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