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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Incentive Relativity: Gene-environment Interactions


Reward loss experiences are among the main sources of emotional stress that humans face throughout their lives. In the animal laboratory, it has been repeatedly shown that the unexpected omission or devaluation of a reinforcer triggers a physiological, cognitive, and behavioral state called frustration. This state involves emotional mechanisms that resemble those unleashed by the presentation of other aversive stimuli, inducing similar stress responses through the activation of brain circuits involved in fear and anxiety. Although this hypothesis has been supported by behavioral, pharmacological, hormonal, and neurobiological evidence, only a few studies have focused on the neurogenetic basis of frustration in animals. This review focuses on the gene-environment interactions that determine the emotional response under conditions of reward loss. Behavioral and genetic correlates of frustration are reviewed in two strains of animals selected on the basis of extreme differences in active avoidance learning: inbred Roman High- (RHA-I) and Roman Low-Avoidance (RLA-I) rats. The review shows the usefulness of Roman strains for neurogenetic research and sets out unsolved questions regarding gene-environment interactions underlying behavior induced by incentive loss.

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