Reward-guided learning beyond dopamine in the nucleus accumbens: the integrative functions of cortico-basal ganglia networks

Eur J Neurosci. 2008 Oct;28(8):1437-48. doi: 10.1111/j.1460-9568.2008.06422.x. Epub 2008 Sep 10.


Here we challenge the view that reward-guided learning is solely controlled by the mesoaccumbens pathway arising from dopaminergic neurons in the ventral tegmental area and projecting to the nucleus accumbens. This widely accepted view assumes that reward is a monolithic concept, but recent work has suggested otherwise. It now appears that, in reward-guided learning, the functions of ventral and dorsal striata, and the cortico-basal ganglia circuitry associated with them, can be dissociated. Whereas the nucleus accumbens is necessary for the acquisition and expression of certain appetitive Pavlovian responses and contributes to the motivational control of instrumental performance, the dorsal striatum is necessary for the acquisition and expression of instrumental actions. Such findings suggest the existence of multiple independent yet interacting functional systems that are implemented in iterating and hierarchically organized cortico-basal ganglia networks engaged in appetitive behaviors ranging from Pavlovian approach responses to goal-directed instrumental actions controlled by action-outcome contingencies.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cerebral Cortex / anatomy & histology
  • Cerebral Cortex / physiology*
  • Conditioning, Psychological / physiology
  • Dopamine / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Learning / physiology*
  • Neostriatum / anatomy & histology
  • Neostriatum / physiology*
  • Neural Pathways / anatomy & histology
  • Neural Pathways / physiology
  • Nucleus Accumbens / anatomy & histology
  • Nucleus Accumbens / physiology*
  • Reward*
  • Ventral Tegmental Area / physiology
  • Volition / physiology


  • Dopamine