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Neuropsychopharmacology. 2016 Apr;41(5):1366-75. doi: 10.1038/npp.2015.288. Epub 2015 Sep 15.

Consequences of Adolescent Ethanol Consumption on Risk Preference and Orbitofrontal Cortex Encoding of Reward.

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Department of Psychology, University of Illinois at Chicago, Chicago, IL, USA.
Laboratory of Integrative Neuroscience, University of Illinois at Chicago, Chicago, IL, USA.


Critical development of the prefrontal cortex occurs during adolescence, a period of increased independence marked by decision making that often includes engagement in risky behaviors, such as substance use. Consumption of alcohol during adolescence has been associated with increased impulsivity that persists across the lifespan, an effect which may be caused by long-term disruptions in cortical processing of rewards. To determine if alcohol consumption alters cortical encoding of rewards of different sizes and probabilities, we gave rats limited access to alcohol in gelatin during adolescence only. In adulthood, we recorded the electrophysiological activity of individual neurons of the orbitofrontal cortex while rats performed a risk task that varied the level of risk from day-to-day. Rats that had consumed higher levels of alcohol showed increased risk preference in the task compared with control and low alcohol-consuming rats. Patterns of neuronal responses were identified using principal component analysis. Of the multiple patterns observed, only one was modulated by adolescent alcohol consumption and showed strongest modulation after reward receipt. This subpopulation of neurons showed blunted firing rates following rewards in alcohol-consuming rats, suggesting a mechanism through which adolescent alcohol exposure may have lasting effects on reward processing in the context of decision making. The differences in OFC responses between high alcohol consumers and control animals not given access to alcohol support the idea that, regardless of potential variability in innate alcohol preferences, voluntary consumption of alcohol during adolescence biases choice patterns longitudinally through alterations in cortical function.

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