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Rational regulation of water-seeking effort in rodents.

  • Author(s): Reinagel, Pamela
  • et al.

In the laboratory, animals' motivation to work tends to be positively correlated with reward magnitude. But in nature, rewards earned by work are essential to survival (e.g., working to find water), and the payoff of that work can vary on long timescales (e.g., seasonally). Under these constraints, the strategy of working less when rewards are small could be fatal. We found that instead, rats in a closed economy did more work for water rewards when the rewards were stably smaller, a phenomenon also observed in human labor supply curves. Like human consumers, rats showed elasticity of demand, consuming far more water per day when its price in effort was lower. The neural mechanisms underlying such "rational" market behaviors remain largely unexplored. We propose a dynamic utility maximization model that can account for the dependence of rat labor supply (trials/day) on the wage rate (milliliter/trial) and also predict the temporal dynamics of when rats work. Based on data from mice, we hypothesize that glutamatergic neurons in the subfornical organ in lamina terminalis continuously compute the instantaneous marginal utility of voluntary work for water reward and causally determine the amount and timing of work.

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