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Subthalamic nucleus lesions increase impulsive action and decrease impulsive choice − mediation by enhanced incentive motivation?


  • Jason M. Uslaner,

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    • *

      Present address: Department of Biology, Merck Research Laboratories, P.O. Box 4, West Point, PA, 19486.

  • Terry E. Robinson

    1. Biopsychology and Neuroscience Programs, Department of Psychology, University of Michigan, East Hall, 525 E. University Street, Ann Arbor, MI 48019-1109, USA
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Dr Jason M. Uslaner, at *present address below.


The subthalamic nucleus (STN) is traditionally thought of as part of a system involved in motor control but recent evidence suggests that it may also play a role in other psychological processes. Here we examined the effects of STN lesions on two measures of impulsivity and found that STN lesions increased ‘impulsive action’ (produced behavioral disinhibition), as measured by performance on a differential reinforcement of low rates of responding task, but decreased ‘impulsive choice’ (impulsive decision making), as measured by a delay discounting task. In addition, amphetamine and food restriction increased ‘impulsive action’ and decreased ‘impulsive choice’ to a greater extent in STN-lesioned animals than in sham controls. We speculate that these apparently discrepant effects may be because STN lesions enhance the incentive salience assigned to rewards. These findings suggest that the STN may serve as a novel target for the treatment of psychological disorders characterized by deficits in behavioral control, such as drug addiction and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.