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David Baxter

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Monkeys turned into workaholics
August 11, 2004

BETHESDA, Md. (United Press International) -- By suppressing a gene in their brains, scientists at the National Institute of Health have managed to turn procrastinating monkeys into workaholics.

Without the gene, the monkeys lost their sense of balance between reward and the work required to obtain the reward, the scientists at the Bethesda, Md., based institute said.

"The gene makes a receptor for a key brain messenger chemical, dopamine," said Barry Richmond at the institute. "The gene knockdown triggered a remarkable transformation in the simian work ethic."

He said as humans often do, monkeys normally slack off initially in working toward a distant goal. They work more efficiently -- make fewer errors -- as they get closer to being rewarded.

But without the dopamine receptor, they consistently stayed on-task and made fewer errors, because they could no longer learn to use visual cues to predict how their work was proceeding.

The findings will be reported in the Aug. 17 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

"In this case, it's worth noting that the ability to associate work with reward is disturbed in mental disorders, including schizophrenia, mood disorders and obsessive-compulsive disorder, so our finding of the pivotal role played by this gene and circuit may be of clinical interest," said Richmond.
 

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