Checking responses of goal- and sign-trackers are differentially affected by threat in a rodent analog of obsessive-compulsive disorder.


In obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), functional behaviors such as checking that a door is locked become dysfunctional, maladaptive, and debilitating. However, it is currently unknown how aversive and appetitive motivations interact to produce functional and dysfunctional behavior in OCD. Here we show a double dissociation in the effects of anxiogenic cues and sensitivity to rewarding stimuli on the propensity to develop functional and dysfunctional checking behavior in a rodent analog of OCD, the observing response task (ORT). While anxiogenic manipulations of perceived threat (presentation of threat-associated contextual cues) and actual threat (punishment of incorrect responding on the ORT) enhanced functional checking, dysfunctional checking was unaffected. In contrast, rats that had previously been identified as "sign-trackers" on an autoshaping task-and therefore were highly sensitive to the incentive salience of appetitive environmental cues-selectively showed elevated levels of dysfunctional checking under a range of conditions, but particularly so under conditions of uncertainty. These data indicate that functional and dysfunctional checking are dissociable and supported by aversive and appetitive motivational processes, respectively. While functional checking is modulated by perceived and actual threat, dysfunctional checking recruits appetitive motivational processes, possibly akin to the "incentive habits" that contribute to drug-seeking in addiction.