Serotonin & reward

In an article entitled “5-HT receptors and reward-related behaviour: A review”, Andrew Greenshaw and I discuss the involvement of the many different serotonin receptors in reward. While dopamine has largely become synonymous with reward, in both the professional literature as well as in pop culture, the role of other neurotransmitters is slowly gaining focus. It is becoming clearer that no single chemical is responsible for reward- or aversion-related processing, and that the orchestration of many is necessary.

What’s more, we suggest that it may be misleading to think of 5-HT as having a single role in this regard. Instead of being a chemical involved in ‘reward’ or ‘aversion’, it likely has many complex actions on emotion through its effects on at least 14 distinct receptor subtypes. These receptors have structural and functional differences that translate ultimately to different effects on the target cell. As there can be many receptor subtypes on any one given cell, the release of 5-HT onto this cell can actually result in opposing effects.

It is for these reasons that we suggested that the content (e.g. receptor function, localization in the synapse and in the brain) and context (e.g. type of behavioural paradigm, type of rewarding drug under consideration), surrounding the involvement of 5-HT in reward-related processing in the brain, must be considered.

The concepts of reward and aversion, even at their most basic level, are remarkably complex. The ultimate goal is to help understand how these processes affect every aspect of our daily lives – answering questions such as “why do you and I value different things?”, “why do we make such different decisions?”, “how can I maximize my own personal experiences of reward from day-to-day and in the long run?”, and “given that so many psychiatric and neurologic disorders involve alterations in emotional processing, is a basic understanding of reward and aversion necessary for prevention or more effective treatments?”

To read the entire article, go here.

Hayes DJ, & Greenshaw AJ (2011). 5-HT receptors and reward-related behaviour: A review. Neuroscience and biobehavioral reviews, 35 (6), 1419-49 PMID: 21402098


About davejhayes
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