What neural changes underlie individual differences in goal-directed learning? The lateral amygdala (LA) is important for assigning emotional and motivational significance to discrete environmental cues, including those that signal rewarding events. Recognizing that a cue predicts a reward enhances an animal's ability to acquire that reward; however, the cellular and synaptic mechanisms that underlie cue-reward learning are unclear. Here we show that marked changes in both cue-induced neuronal firing and input-specific synaptic strength occur with the successful acquisition of a cue-reward association within a single training session. We performed both in vivo and ex vivo electrophysiological recordings in the LA of rats trained to self-administer sucrose. We observed that reward-learning success increased in proportion to the number of amygdala neurons that responded phasically to a reward-predictive cue. Furthermore, cue-reward learning induced an AMPA (alpha-amino-3-hydroxy-5-methyl-isoxazole propionic acid)-receptor-mediated increase in the strength of thalamic, but not cortical, synapses in the LA that was apparent immediately after the first training session. The level of learning attained by individual subjects was highly correlated with the degree of synaptic strength enhancement. Importantly, intra-LA NMDA (N-methyl-d-aspartate)-receptor blockade impaired reward-learning performance and attenuated the associated increase in synaptic strength. These findings provide evidence of a connection between LA synaptic plasticity and cue-reward learning, potentially representing a key mechanism underlying goal-directed behaviour.