neuroscience: lack of serotonin may mean lack of flexibility in behavior

Serotonin, an important neurotransmitter, has almost become a household word, thanks to antidepressants such as Prozac and Zoloft, which work to increase serotonin levels in the brain. Yet its precise role in the prefrontal cortex, an area of the brain involved in learning and decision-making, remains poorly understood. Scientists have long thought that there was a link between the brain’s inability to properly regulate serotonin in the prefrontal cortex and various psychiatric disorders, such as schizophrenia and obsessive-compulsive disorder. A study by British researchers in the May 7 Science offers evidence that this may be the case, showing that a lack of serotonin leads to inflexible and repetitive behavior, a symptom of many of these disorders. Hannah Clarke of Cambridge University and colleagues depleted serotonin in the prefrontal cortex of marmoset monkeys. They found that those monkeys tended to repeat certain actions instead of adapting them to new circumstances.

This news brief appeared in the Discoveries column of the Boston Globe’s Health/Science section on 5/11/2004.
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