Fatigue modulates dopamine availability and promotes flexible choice reversals during decision making.
Iodice P., Ferrante C., Brunetti L., Cabib S., Protasi F., Walton ME., Pezzulo G.
During decisions, animals balance goal achievement and effort management. Despite physical exercise and fatigue significantly affecting the levels of effort that an animal exerts to obtain a reward, their role in effort-based choice and the underlying neurochemistry are incompletely known. In particular, it is unclear whether fatigue influences decision (cost-benefit) strategies flexibly or only post-decision action execution and learning. To answer this question, we trained mice on a T-maze task in which they chose between a high-cost, high-reward arm (HR), which included a barrier, and a low-cost, low-reward arm (LR), with no barrier. The animals were parametrically fatigued immediately before the behavioural tasks by running on a treadmill. We report a sharp choice reversal, from the HR to LR arm, at 80% of their peak workload (PW), which was temporary and specific, as the mice returned to choose the HC when the animals were successively tested at 60% PW or in a two-barrier task. These rapid reversals are signatures of flexible choice. We also observed increased subcortical dopamine levels in fatigued mice: a marker of individual bias to use model-based control in humans. Our results indicate that fatigue levels can be incorporated in flexible cost-benefits computations that improve foraging efficiency.