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Serotonin has widespread, but computationally obscure, modulatory effects on learning and cognition. Here, we studied the impact of optogenetic stimulation of dorsal raphe serotonin neurons in mice performing a non-stationary, reward-driven decision-making task. Animals showed two distinct choice strategies. Choices after short inter-trial-intervals (ITIs) depended only on the last trial outcome and followed a win-stay-lose-switch pattern. In contrast, choices after long ITIs reflected outcome history over multiple trials, as described by reinforcement learning models. We found that optogenetic stimulation during a trial significantly boosted the rate of learning that occurred due to the outcome of that trial, but these effects were only exhibited on choices after long ITIs. This suggests that serotonin neurons modulate reinforcement learning rates, and that this influence is masked by alternate, unaffected, decision mechanisms. These results provide insight into the role of serotonin in treating psychiatric disorders, particularly its modulation of neural plasticity and learning.

Original publication




Journal article


Nat Commun

Publication Date





Animals, Choice Behavior, Decision Making, Dorsal Raphe Nucleus, Learning, Mice, Mice, Transgenic, Models, Neurological, Models, Psychological, Neuronal Plasticity, Optogenetics, Reinforcement, Psychology, Reward, Serotonergic Neurons, Serotonin, Serotonin Plasma Membrane Transport Proteins, Time Factors