Coding of task reward value in the dorsal raphe nucleus

J Neurosci. 2010 May 5;30(18):6262-72. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.0015-10.2010.


The dorsal raphe nucleus and its serotonin-releasing neurons are thought to regulate motivation and reward-seeking. These neurons are known to be active during motivated behavior, but the underlying principles that govern their activity are unknown. Here we show that a group of dorsal raphe neurons encode behavioral tasks in a systematic manner, tracking progress toward upcoming rewards. We analyzed dorsal raphe neuron activity recorded while animals performed two reward-oriented saccade tasks. There was a strong correlation between the tonic activity level of a neuron during behavioral tasks and its encoding of reward-related cues and outcomes. Neurons that were tonically excited during the task predominantly carried positive reward signals. Neurons that were tonically inhibited during the task predominantly carried negative reward signals. Neurons that did not change their tonic activity levels during the task had weak reward signals with no tendency for a positive or negative direction. This form of correlated task and reward coding accounted for the majority of systematic variation in dorsal raphe response patterns in our tasks. A smaller component of neural activity reflected detection of reward delivery. Our data suggest that the dorsal raphe nucleus encodes participation in a behavioral task in terms of its future motivational outcomes.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Action Potentials / physiology
  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal / physiology*
  • Female
  • Macaca mulatta
  • Male
  • Motivation / physiology
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Raphe Nuclei / physiology*
  • Reward*