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Neuron. 2011 Feb 24;69(4):680-94. doi: 10.1016/j.neuron.2011.01.020.

Impulsivity, compulsivity, and top-down cognitive control.

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Behavioural and Clinical Neuroscience Institute, University of Cambridge, Downing Street, Cambridge CB23EB, UK.


Impulsivity is the tendency to act prematurely without foresight. Behavioral and neurobiological analysis of this construct, with evidence from both animal and human studies, defines several dissociable forms depending on distinct cortico-striatal substrates. One form of impulsivity depends on the temporal discounting of reward, another on motor or response disinhibition. Impulsivity is commonly associated with addiction to drugs from different pharmacological classes, but its causal role in human addiction is unclear. We characterize in neurobehavioral and neurochemical terms a rodent model of impulsivity based on premature responding in an attentional task. Evidence is surveyed that high impulsivity on this task precedes the escalation subsequently of cocaine self-administration behavior, and also a tendency toward compulsive cocaine-seeking and to relapse. These results indicate that the vulnerability to stimulant addiction may depend on an impulsivity endophenotype. Implications of these findings for the etiology, development, and treatment of drug addiction are considered.

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