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Psychopharmacology (Berl). 2015 Aug;232(15):2697-709. doi: 10.1007/s00213-015-3905-2. Epub 2015 Mar 21.

Psychopharmacological characterisation of the successive negative contrast effect in rats.

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School of Physiology and Pharmacology, University of Bristol, Medical Sciences Building, University Walk, Bristol, BS8 1TD, UK.



Successive negative contrast (SNC) describes a change in the behaviour of an animal following a downshift in the quantitative or qualitative value of an expected reward. This behavioural response has been hypothesised to be linked to affective state, with negative states associated with larger and/or prolonged shifts in behaviour.


This study has investigated whether different psychopharmacological treatments have dissociable actions on the SNC effect in rats and related these findings to their actions on different neurotransmitter systems and affective state.


Animals were trained to perform a nose-poke response to obtain a high-value food reward (four pellets). SNC was quantified during devalue sessions in which the reward was reduced to one pellet. Using a within-subject study design, the effects of acute treatment with anxiolytic, anxiogenic, antidepressant and dopaminergic drugs were investigated during both baseline (four pellets) or devalue sessions (one pellet).


The indirect dopamine agonist, amphetamine, attenuated the SNC effect whilst the D1/D2 antagonist, alpha-flupenthixol, potentiated it. The antidepressant citalopram, anxiolytic buspirone and anxiogenic FG7142 had no specific effects on SNC, although FG7142 induced general impairments at higher doses. The α2-adrenoceptor antagonist, yohimbine, increased premature responding but had no specific effect on SNC. Results for the anxiolytic diazepam were mixed with one group showing an attenuation of the SNC effect whilst the other showed no effect.


These data suggest that the SNC effect is mediated, at least in part, by dopamine signalling. The SNC effect may also be attenuated by benzodiazepine anxiolytics.

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