Organisms have evolved to approach pleasurable opportunities and to avoid or escape from aversive experiences. These 2 distinct motivations are referred to as approach and avoidance/escape motivations and are both considered vital for survival. Despite several recent advances in understanding the neurobiology of motivation, most studies addressed approach but not avoidance/escape motivation. Here we develop a new experimental paradigm to quantify avoidance/escape motivation and examine the pharmacological validity. Methods: We set up an avoidance variable ratio 5 task in which mice were required to press a lever for variable times to avoid an upcoming aversive stimulus (foot shock) or to escape the ongoing aversive event if they failed to avoid it. We i.p. injected ketamine (0, 1, or 5 mg/kg) or buspirone (0, 5, or 10 mg/kg) 20 or 30 minutes before the behavioral task to see if ketamine enhanced avoidance/escape behavior and buspirone diminished it as previously reported. Results: We found that the performance on the avoidance variable ratio 5 task was sensitive to the intensity of the aversive stimulus. Treatment with ketamine increased while that with buspirone decreased the probability of avoidance from an aversive stimulus in the variable ratio 5 task, being consistent with previous reports. Conclusion: Our new paradigm will prove useful for quantifying avoidance/escape motivation and will contribute to a more comprehensive understanding of motivation.
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