Cortical remodelling induced by activity of ventral tegmental dopamine neurons

Nature. 2001 Jul 5;412(6842):79-83. doi: 10.1038/35083586.


Representations of sensory stimuli in the cerebral cortex can undergo progressive remodelling according to the behavioural importance of the stimuli. The cortex receives widespread projections from dopamine neurons in the ventral tegmental area (VTA), which are activated by new stimuli or unpredicted rewards, and are believed to provide a reinforcement signal for such learning-related cortical reorganization. In the primary auditory cortex (AI) dopamine release has been observed during auditory learning that remodels the sound-frequency representations. Furthermore, dopamine modulates long-term potentiation, a putative cellular mechanism underlying plasticity. Here we show that stimulating the VTA together with an auditory stimulus of a particular tone increases the cortical area and selectivity of the neural responses to that sound stimulus in AI. Conversely, the AI representations of nearby sound frequencies are selectively decreased. Strong, sharply tuned responses to the paired tones also emerge in a second cortical area, whereas the same stimuli evoke only poor or non-selective responses in this second cortical field in naive animals. In addition, we found that strong long-range coherence of neuronal discharge emerges between AI and this secondary auditory cortical area.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Acoustic Stimulation
  • Animals
  • Cerebral Cortex / cytology
  • Cerebral Cortex / physiology*
  • Cortical Synchronization
  • Dopamine / physiology*
  • Neuronal Plasticity
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Rats
  • Ventral Tegmental Area / cytology
  • Ventral Tegmental Area / physiology*


  • Dopamine