Pramipexole and other direct dopamine agonist medications have been implicated in the development of impulsive behavior such as pathological gambling among those taking the drug to control symptoms of Parkinson’s disease or restless leg syndrome. Few laboratory studies examining pramipexole’s effects on gambling-like behavior have been conducted.
The present study used a rodent model approximating some aspects of human gambling to examine within-subject effects of acute pramipexole (0.03, 0.1, 0.18, & 0.3 mg/kg) on rat’s choices to earn food reinforcement by completing variable-ratio (i.e., gambling-like) or fixed-ratio response requirements.
In a condition in which the variable-ratio alternative was rarely selected, all but the lowest dose of pramipexole significantly increased choice of the variable-ratio alternative (an average of 15% above saline).. The same doses did not affect choice significantly in a control condition designed to evaluate the involvement of nonspecific drug effects. Pramipexole increased latencies to initiate trials (+ 9.12 s) and to begin response runs on forced-choice trials (variable-ratio: + 0.21 s; fixed-ratio: + 0.88 s), but did not affect measures of response perseveration (conditional probabilities of “staying”).
The findings are consistent with clinical reports linking pramipexole to the expression of increased gambling in humans. Results are discussed in the context of neurobehavioral evidence suggesting that dopamine agonists increase sensitivity to reward delay and disrupt appropriate feedback from negative outcomes.