New study investigates brain mechanisms critical for ability to delay gratification

(From left) Jennifer Bizon, Ph.D.; Caesar Hernandez, Ph.D; and research technician Tyler TenEyck.
(From left) Jennifer Bizon, Ph.D.; Caesar Hernandez, Ph.D; and research technician Tyler TenEyck.

A new rodent-model study by McKnight Brain Institute neuroscientists sheds light on brain mechanisms involved with decision-making and how these mechanisms may contribute to an improved ability to delay gratification in our older years.

The study, recently published in the journal eLife, delved into the ability to delay gratification, which has been shown in past research to be a factor in life outcomes such as educational attainment and maintaining a healthy body weight.  Prior studies in both humans and rodents have shown that relative to young subjects, older subjects are better able to delay gratification, generally choosing to forgo small rewards available immediately in favor of waiting for larger rewards delivered in the future.

In the new study, researchers used optogenetic tools to temporarily turn off neural activity in the basolateral amygdala in young and aged rats while they were making decisions. The basolateral amygdala is a brain region that is important in decision-making and motivation.

Led by post-doc Caesar Hernandez, Ph.D., in the labs of Jennifer Bizon, Ph.D., and Barry Setlow, Ph.D. from the UF departments of neuroscience and psychiatry, the study identified multiple distinct roles for the basolateral amygdala during decision-making in young rats and also showed that aged rats fail to engage the basolateral amygdala in the same way.

The results help to explain why older adults appear better able to delay gratification and offer insight for treating impulsive disorders such as ADHD and substance use disorders in young adults.

Read the article in eLife.