Good vibrations: cross-frequency coupling in the human nucleus accumbens during reward processing

J Cogn Neurosci. 2009 May;21(5):875-89. doi: 10.1162/jocn.2009.21062.


The nucleus accumbens is critical for reward-guided learning and decision-making. It is thought to "gate" the flow of a diverse range of information (e.g., rewarding, aversive, and novel events) from limbic afferents to basal ganglia outputs. Gating and information encoding may be achieved via cross-frequency coupling, in which bursts of high-frequency activity occur preferentially during specific phases of slower oscillations. We examined whether the human nucleus accumbens engages such a mechanism by recording electrophysiological activity directly from the accumbens of human patients undergoing deep brain stimulation surgery. Oscillatory activity in the gamma (40-80 Hz) frequency range was synchronized with the phase of simultaneous alpha (8-12 Hz) waves. Further, losing and winning small amounts of money elicited relatively increased gamma oscillation power prior to and following alpha troughs, respectively. Gamma-alpha synchronization may reflect an electrophysiological gating mechanism in the human nucleus accumbens, and the phase differences in gamma-alpha coupling may reflect a reward information coding scheme similar to phase coding.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Cues
  • Deep Brain Stimulation / methods
  • Depressive Disorder, Major / pathology
  • Electroencephalography* / classification
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Nucleus Accumbens / physiopathology*
  • Periodicity*
  • Reward*
  • Spectrum Analysis
  • Time Factors