Prefrontal serotonin depletion affects reversal learning but not attentional set shifting.


Recently, we have shown that serotonin (5-HT) depletion from the prefrontal cortex (PFC) of the marmoset monkey impairs performance on a serial discrimination reversal (SDR) task, resulting in perseverative responding to the previously correct stimulus (Clarke et al., 2004). This pattern of impairment is just one example of inflexible responding seen after damage to the PFC, with performance on the SDR task being dependent on the integrity of the orbitofrontal cortex. However, the contribution of 5-HT to other forms of flexible responding, such as attentional set shifting, an ability dependent on lateral PFC (Dias et al., 1996a), is unknown. The present study addresses this issue by examining the effects of 5,7-dihydroxytryptamine-induced PFC 5-HT depletions on the ability to shift attention between two perceptual dimensions of a compound visual stimulus (extradimensional shift). Monkeys with selective PFC 5-HT lesions, despite being impaired in their ability to reverse a stimulus-reward association, were unimpaired in their ability to make an extradimensional shift when compared with sham-operated controls. These findings suggest that 5-HT is critical for flexible responding at the level of changing stimulus-reward contingencies but is not essential for the higher-order shifting of attentional set. Thus, psychological functions dependent on different loci within the PFC are differentially sensitive to serotonergic modulation, a finding of relevance to our understanding of cognitive inflexibility apparent in disorders such as obsessive-compulsive disorder and schizophrenia.