A study recently published in the journal Nature Communications reveals that serotonin enhances the speed of learning…at least in the mice that were studied. Researchers used light to artificially activate serotonin neurons in these lab rodents, finding that it resulted in more rapid behavior adaption in applicable situations.
The study was conducted by researchers from University College London and the Champalimaud Centre for the Unknown. During it, the international team found that the neurotransmitter serotonin may have an important role in learning and knowing that may help pinpoint why SSRIs are more effective in some situations over others.
Talking about the findings is the study’s Zach Mainen, who said:
When serotonin neurons were activated artificially, using light, it made mice quicker to adapt their behavior in a situation that required such flexibility. That is, they gave more weight to new information and therefore changed their minds more rapidly when these neurons were active.
Serotonin has already been known as a possible booster for brain plasticity, and it’s known that selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are a class of anti-depressants that help some individuals with depression. It has been found that SSRIs are generally more effective when coupled with behavior-based therapies and this study’s findings may explain why.
The study states:
Our results suggest that serotonin boosts [brain] plasticity by influencing the rate of learning. This resonates, for instance, with the fact that treatment with an SSRI can be more effective when combined with so-called cognitive behavioral therapy, which encourages the breaking of habits in patients.