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To make good decisions, humans need to learn about and integrate different sources of appetitive and aversive information. While serotonin has been linked to value-based decision-making, its role in learning is less clear, with acute manipulations often producing inconsistent results. Here, we show that when the effects of a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI, citalopram) are studied over longer timescales, learning is robustly improved. We measured brain activity with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) in volunteers as they performed a concurrent appetitive (money) and aversive (effort) learning task. We found that 2 weeks of citalopram enhanced reward and effort learning signals in a widespread network of brain regions, including ventromedial prefrontal and anterior cingulate cortex. At a behavioral level, this was accompanied by more robust reward learning. This suggests that serotonin can modulate the ability to learn via a mechanism that is independent of stimulus valence. Such effects may partly underlie SSRIs' impact in treating psychological illnesses. Our results highlight both a specific function in learning for serotonin and the importance of studying its role across longer timescales.

Original publication

DOI

10.1371/journal.pbio.2000756

Type

Journal article

Journal

PLoS Biol

Publication Date

02/2017

Volume

15

Keywords

Antidepressive Agents, Citalopram, Humans, Learning, Magnetic Resonance Imaging, Reward, Serotonin, Serotonin Uptake Inhibitors, Task Performance and Analysis