Journal Article
Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
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Examining the effects of psychoactive drugs on complex behavioral processes in laboratory animals.

Behavioral pharmacology has been aided significantly by the development of innovative cognitive tasks designed to examine complex behavioral processes in laboratory animals. Performance outcomes under these conditions have provided key metrics of drug action which serve to supplement traditional in vivo assays of physiologic and behavioral effects of psychoactive drugs. This chapter provides a primer of cognitive tasks designed to assay different aspects of complex behavior, including learning, cognitive flexibility, memory, attention, motivation, and impulsivity. Both capstone studies and recent publications are highlighted throughout to illustrate task value for two distinct but often interconnected translational strategies. First, task performance in laboratory animals can be utilized to elucidate how drugs of abuse affect complex behavioral processes. Here, the expectation is that adverse effects on such processes will have predictive relevance to consequences that will be experienced by humans. Second, these same task outcomes can be used to evaluate candidate therapeutics. In this case, the extent to which drug doses with medicinal value perturb task performance can contribute critical information for a more complete safety profile appraisal and advance the process of medications development. Methodological and theoretical considerations are discussed and include an emphasis on determining selectivity in drug action on complex behavioral processes.

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