Differential effects of the pharmacological stressor yohimbine on impulsive decision making and response inhibition

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Rationale: High levels of impulsivity have been associated with psychiatric disorders such as attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and substance abuse. In addition, acute stress is known to exacerbate many psychiatric symptoms in impulse control disorders. Objectives: The purpose of the current study was to investigate the acute effects of the pharmacological stressor yohimbine on response inhibition and impulsive choice. Methods: A group of male rats (n = 12) was trained in the delayed reward task (DRT) to assess impulsive choice. A separate group (n = 10) was trained in the stop-signal task (SST) to measure response inhibition. Upon stable responding, the effects of yohimbine (0, 1.25, 2.5, and 5 mg/kg i.p.) were tested in a Latin square design. Results: Acute yohimbine significantly increased the preference for the large and delayed reinforcer in the DRT, indicating a decrease in impulsive choice. On the contrary, the effect size of 1.25 mg/kg yohimbine on stop-signal reaction times correlated negatively with baseline performance, suggesting a baseline-dependent effect on response inhibition as measured in the SST. Conclusions: The current data suggest that the effects of the pharmacological stressor yohimbine on impulse control strongly depend on the type of impulsive behavior. Pharmacological stress decreased impulsive decision making, an observation that is in line with previously published rodent studies. By contrast, the lowest dose of yohimbine revealed a baseline-dependent effect on response inhibition. As such, the effects of yohimbine are largely comparable to the effects of psychostimulants on impulsivity and may support the notion of cross sensitization of stress and psychostimulants.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2775-2785
Number of pages11
Issue number14
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2016


  • Delayed reward task
  • Impulsive choice
  • Impulsivity
  • Noradrenaline
  • Response inhibition
  • Stop-signal task
  • Stress
  • Yohimbine
  • α2 noradrenergic receptor

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