Serotonin (5-HT) is associated with mood and motivation but the function of endogenous 5-HT remains controversial. Here, we studied the impact of phasic optogenetic activation of 5-HT neurons in mice over time scales from seconds to weeks. We found that activating dorsal raphe nucleus (DRN) 5-HT neurons induced a strong suppression of spontaneous locomotor behavior in the open field with rapid kinetics (onset ≤1 s). Inhibition of locomotion was independent of measures of anxiety or motor impairment and could be overcome by strong motivational drive. Repetitive place-contingent pairing of activation caused neither place preference nor aversion. However, repeated 15 min daily stimulation caused a persistent increase in spontaneous locomotion to emerge over three weeks. These results show that 5-HT transients have strong and opposing short and long-term effects on motor behavior that appear to arise from effects on the underlying factors that motivate actions.
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