Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are widely used to treat psychiatric disorders with affective biases such as depression and anxiety. How SSRIs exert a beneficial action on emotions associated with life events is still unknown. Here we ask whether and how the effectiveness of the SSRI fluoxetine is underpinned by neural mechanisms in the ventral striatum. To address these issues, we studied the spiking activity of neurons in the ventral striatum of monkeys during an approach-avoidance task in which the valence assigned to sensory stimuli was manipulated. Neural responses to positive and negative events were measured before and during a 4-week treatment with fluoxetine. We conducted PET scans to confirm that fluoxetine binds within the ventral striatum at a therapeutic dose. In our monkeys, fluoxetine facilitated approach of rewards and avoidance of punishments. These beneficial effects were associated with changes in tonic and phasic activities of striatal neurons. Fluoxetine increased the spontaneous firing rate of striatal neurons and amplified the number of cells responding to rewards versus punishments, reflecting a drug-induced positive shift in the processing of emotionally valenced information. These findings reveal how SSRI treatment affects ventral striatum neurons encoding positive and negative valence and striatal signaling of emotional information. In addition to a key role in appetitive processing, our results shed light on the involvement of the ventral striatum in aversive processing. Together, the ventral striatum appears to play a central role in the action of SSRIs on emotion processing biases commonly observed in psychiatric disorders.
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We are grateful to Robert S. Turner and Sylvia Wirth for helpful comments on the manuscript.
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Pasquereau, B., Drui, G., Saga, Y. et al. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor treatment retunes emotional valence in primate ventral striatum. Neuropsychopharmacol. (2021). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41386-021-00991-x