Neural encoding in ventral striatum during olfactory discrimination learning

Neuron. 2003 May 22;38(4):625-36. doi: 10.1016/s0896-6273(03)00264-2.


A growing body of evidence implicates the ventral striatum in using information acquired through associative learning. The present study examined the activity of ventral striatal neurons in awake, behaving rats during go/no-go odor discrimination learning and reversal. Many neurons fired selectively to odor cues predictive of either appetitive (sucrose) or aversive (quinine) outcomes. Few neurons were selective when first exposed to the odors, but many acquired this differential activity as rats learned the significance of the cues. A substantial proportion of these neurons encoded the cues' learned motivational significance, and these neurons tended to reverse their firing selectivity after reversal of odor-outcome contingencies. Other neurons that became selectively activated during learning did not reverse, but instead appeared to encode specific combinations of cues and associated motor responses. The results support a role for ventral striatum in using the learned significance, both appetitive and aversive, of predictive cues to guide behavior.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Action Potentials / physiology
  • Animals
  • Avoidance Learning / physiology
  • Basal Ganglia / cytology*
  • Basal Ganglia / physiology*
  • Behavior, Animal / physiology
  • Conditioning, Psychological / physiology
  • Discrimination Learning / physiology*
  • Electrophysiology
  • Goals
  • Male
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Odorants
  • Quinine
  • Rats
  • Rats, Long-Evans
  • Reward
  • Smell / physiology*
  • Sucrose
  • Taste / physiology


  • Sucrose
  • Quinine