AUTHORS: Zalachoras I, Ramos-Fernández E, Hollis F, Trovo L, Rodrigues J, Strasser A, Zanoletti O, Steiner P, Preitner N, Xin L, Astori S, Sandi C

eLife, 11: e77791, November 2022


Emerging evidence is implicating mitochondrial function and metabolism in the nucleus accumbens in motivated performance. However, the brain is vulnerable to excessive oxidative insults resulting from neurometabolic processes, and whether antioxidant levels in the nucleus accumbens contribute to motivated performance is not known. Here, we identify a critical role for glutathione (GSH), the most important endogenous antioxidant in the brain, in motivation. Using proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy at ultra-high field in both male humans and rodent populations, we establish that higher accumbal GSH levels are highly predictive of better, and particularly, steady performance over time in effort-related tasks. Causality was established in in vivo experiments in rats that, first, showed that downregulating GSH levels through micro-injections of the GSH synthesis inhibitor buthionine sulfoximine in the nucleus accumbens impaired effort-based reward-incentivized performance. In addition, systemic treatment with the GSH precursor N-acetyl-cysteine increased accumbal GSH levels in rats and led to improved performance, potentially mediated by a cell-type-specific shift in glutamatergic inputs to accumbal medium spiny neurons. Our data indicate a close association between accumbal GSH levels and an individual’s capacity to exert reward-incentivized effort over time. They also suggest that improvement of accumbal antioxidant function may be a feasible approach to boost motivation.

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