Macoveanu, Julian4; Rowe, James B3; Hornboll, Bettina4; Elliott, Rebecca3; Paulson, Olaf B5; Knudsen, Gitte M3; Siebner, Hartwig R5
1 Department of Clinical Medicine, Department of Clinical Medicine, Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences, Københavns Universitet2 Department of Clinical Medicine, Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences, Københavns Universitet3 unknown4 Department of Clinical Medicine, Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences, Københavns Universitet5 Department of Clinical Medicine, Department of Clinical Medicine, Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences, Københavns Universitet
Pharmacological studies point to a role of the neurotransmitter serotonin (5-HT) in regulating the preference for risky decisions, yet the functional contribution of specific 5-HT receptors remains to be clarified. We used pharmacological fMRI to investigate the role of the 5-HT2A receptors in processing negative outcomes and regulating risk-averse behavior. During fMRI, twenty healthy volunteers performed a gambling task under two conditions: with or without blocking the 5-HT2A receptors. The volunteers repeatedly chose between small, likely rewards and large, unlikely rewards. Choices were balanced in terms of expected utility and potential loss. Acute blockade of the 5-HT2A receptors with ketanserin made participants more risk-averse. Ketanserin selectively reduced the neural response of the frontopolar cortex to negative outcomes that were caused by low-risk choices and were associated with large missed rewards. In the context of normal 5-HT2A receptor function, ventral striatum displayed a stronger response to low-risk negative outcomes in risk-taking as opposed to risk-averse individuals. This (negative) correlation between the striatal response to low-risk negative outcomes and risk-averse choice behavior was abolished by 5-HT2A receptor blockade. The results provide the first evidence for a critical role of 5-HT2A receptor function in regulating risk-averse behavior. We suggest that the 5-HT2A receptor system facilitates risk-taking behavior by modulating the outcome evaluation of "missed" reward. These results have implications for understanding the neural basis of abnormal risk-taking behavior, for instance in pathological gamblers.