Distinct Tonic and Phasic Anticipatory Activity in Lateral Habenula and Dopamine Neurons

Neuron. 2010 Jul 15;67(1):144-55. doi: 10.1016/j.neuron.2010.06.016.


Dopamine has a crucial role in anticipation of motivational events. To investigate the underlying mechanisms of this process, we analyzed the activity of dopamine neurons and one of their major sources of input, neurons in the lateral habenula, while animals anticipated upcoming behavioral tasks. We found that lateral habenula and dopamine neurons anticipated tasks in two distinct manners. First, neurons encoded the timing distribution of upcoming tasks through gradual changes in their tonic activity. This tonic signal encoded rewarding tasks in preference to punishing tasks and was correlated with classic phasic coding of motivational value. Second, neurons transmitted a phasic signal marking the time when a task began. This phasic signal encoded rewarding and punishing tasks in similar manners, as though reflecting motivational salience. Our data suggest that the habenula-dopamine pathway motivates anticipation through a combination of tonic reward-related and phasic salience-related signals.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Action Potentials / physiology
  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal
  • Conditioning, Classical / physiology
  • Conditioning, Operant / physiology
  • Dopamine / metabolism*
  • Habenula / cytology*
  • Macaca mulatta
  • Motivation / physiology*
  • Neural Pathways / physiology
  • Neurons / metabolism
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Punishment
  • Reward*
  • Statistics as Topic
  • Time Factors


  • Dopamine