Mesolimbic functional magnetic resonance imaging activations during reward anticipation correlate with reward-related ventral striatal dopamine release

J Neurosci. 2008 Dec 24;28(52):14311-9. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.2058-08.2008.


The dopaminergic mechanisms that control reward-motivated behavior are the subject of intense study, but it is yet unclear how, in humans, neural activity in mesolimbic reward-circuitry and its functional neuroimaging correlates are related to dopamine release. To address this question, we obtained functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) measures of reward-related neural activity and [(11)C]raclopride positron emission tomography measures of dopamine release in the same human participants, while they performed a delayed monetary incentive task. Across the cohort, a positive correlation emerged between neural activity of the substantia nigra/ventral tegmental area (SN/VTA), the main origin of dopaminergic neurotransmission, during reward anticipation and reward-related [(11)C]raclopride displacement as an index of dopamine release in the ventral striatum, major target of SN/VTA dopamine neurons. Neural activity in the ventral striatum/nucleus accumbens itself also correlated with ventral striatal dopamine release. Additionally, high-reward-related dopamine release was associated with increased activation of limbic structures, such as the amygdala and the hippocampus. The observed correlations of reward-related mesolimbic fMRI activation and dopamine release provide evidence that dopaminergic neurotransmission plays a quantitative role in human mesolimbic reward processing. Moreover, the combined neurochemical and hemodynamic imaging approach used here opens up new perspectives for the investigation of molecular mechanisms underlying human cognition.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Basal Ganglia / blood supply*
  • Basal Ganglia / diagnostic imaging
  • Basal Ganglia / metabolism*
  • Brain Mapping*
  • Carbon Isotopes / metabolism
  • Dopamine / metabolism*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted / methods
  • Linear Models
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging*
  • Male
  • Neural Pathways / anatomy & histology
  • Neural Pathways / diagnostic imaging
  • Neural Pathways / physiology
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Oxygen / blood
  • Positron-Emission Tomography / methods
  • Raclopride / metabolism
  • Reaction Time / physiology
  • Reward*
  • Young Adult


  • Carbon Isotopes
  • Raclopride
  • Oxygen
  • Dopamine