Serotonin is a neuromodulator that is involved extensively in behavioral, affective, and cognitive functions in the brain. Previous recording studies of the midbrain dorsal raphe nucleus (DRN) revealed that the activation of putative serotonin neurons correlates with the levels of behavioral arousal , rhythmic motor outputs , salient sensory stimuli [3-6], reward, and conditioned cues [5-8]. The classic theory on serotonin states that it opposes dopamine and inhibits behaviors when aversive events are predicted [9-14]. However, the therapeutic effects of serotonin signal-enhancing medications have been difficult to reconcile with this theory [15, 16]. In contrast, a more recent theory states that serotonin facilitates long-term optimal behaviors and suppresses impulsive behaviors [17-21]. To test these theories, we developed optogenetic mice that selectively express channelrhodopsin in serotonin neurons and tested how the activation of serotonergic neurons in the DRN affects animal behavior during a delayed reward task. The activation of serotonin neurons reduced the premature cessation of waiting for conditioned cues and food rewards. In reward omission trials, serotonin neuron stimulation prolonged the time animals spent waiting. This effect was observed specifically when the animal was engaged in deciding whether to keep waiting and was not due to motor inhibition. Control experiments showed that the prolonged waiting times observed with optogenetic stimulation were not due to behavioral inhibition or the reinforcing effects of serotonergic activation. These results show, for the first time, that the timed activation of serotonin neurons during waiting promotes animals patience to wait for a delayed reward.
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