Getting formal with dopamine and reward

Neuron. 2002 Oct 10;36(2):241-63. doi: 10.1016/s0896-6273(02)00967-4.


Recent neurophysiological studies reveal that neurons in certain brain structures carry specific signals about past and future rewards. Dopamine neurons display a short-latency, phasic reward signal indicating the difference between actual and predicted rewards. The signal is useful for enhancing neuronal processing and learning behavioral reactions. It is distinctly different from dopamine's tonic enabling of numerous behavioral processes. Neurons in the striatum, frontal cortex, and amygdala also process reward information but provide more differentiated information for identifying and anticipating rewards and organizing goal-directed behavior. The different reward signals have complementary functions, and the optimal use of rewards in voluntary behavior would benefit from interactions between the signals. Addictive psychostimulant drugs may exert their action by amplifying the dopamine reward signal.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain / drug effects
  • Brain / physiology
  • Dopamine / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Illicit Drugs / pharmacology
  • Neurons / drug effects
  • Neurons / physiology
  • Reward*


  • Illicit Drugs
  • Dopamine