The nucleus accumbens and Pavlovian reward learning

Neuroscientist. 2007 Apr;13(2):148-59. doi: 10.1177/1073858406295854.


The ability to form associations between predictive environmental events and rewarding outcomes is a fundamental aspect of learned behavior. This apparently simple ability likely requires complex neural processing evolved to identify, seek, and use natural rewards and redirect these activities based on updated sensory information. Emerging evidence from both animal and human research suggests that this type of processing is mediated in part by the nucleus accumbens (NAc) and a closely associated network of brain structures. The NAc is required for a number of reward-related behaviors and processes specific information about reward availability, value, and context. In addition, this structure is critical for the acquisition and expression of most Pavlovian stimulus-reward relationships, and cues that predict rewards produce robust changes in neural activity in the NAc. Although processing within the NAc may enable or promote Pavlovian reward learning in natural situations, it has also been implicated in aspects of human drug addiction, including the ability of drug-paired cues to control behavior. This article provides a critical review of the existing animal and human literature concerning the role of the NAc in Pavlovian learning with nondrug rewards and considers some clinical ture concerning the role of the NAc in Pavlovian learning with nondrug implications of these findings.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain / anatomy & histology
  • Brain / physiology
  • Conditioning, Psychological / physiology*
  • Cues
  • Humans
  • Learning / physiology*
  • Nerve Net / anatomy & histology
  • Nerve Net / physiology
  • Nucleus Accumbens / anatomy & histology
  • Nucleus Accumbens / physiology*
  • Reward*
  • Substance-Related Disorders / physiopathology
  • Substance-Related Disorders / psychology