Nucleus accumbens dopamine (DA) is a critical component of the brain circuitry regulating behavioral output during reinforcement-seeking behavior. Several studies have investigated the characteristics of accumbens DA release during the performance of well-learned operant behaviors, but relatively few have focused on the initial acquisition of particular instrumental behaviors or operant schedules. The present experiments focused on the initial acquisition of operant performance on a reinforcement schedule by studying the transition from a fixed ratio 1 (FR1) schedule to another operant schedule with a higher ratio requirement (i.e. fixed ratio 5 [FR5]). Microdialysis sessions were conducted in different groups of rats that were tested on either the FR1 schedule; the first, second, or third day of FR5 training; or after weeks of FR5 training. Consistent with previous studies, well-trained rats performing on the FR5 schedule after weeks of training showed significant increases in extracellular DA in both core and shell subregions of nucleus accumbens during the behavioral session. On the first day of FR5 training, there was a substantial increase in DA release in nucleus accumbens shell (i.e. approximately 300% of baseline). In contrast, accumbens core DA release was greatest on the second day of FR5 training. In parallel experiments, DA release in core and shell subregions did not significantly increase during free consumption of the same high carbohydrate food pellets that were used in the operant experiments, despite the very high levels of food intake in experienced rats. However, in rats exposed to the high-carbohydrate food for the first time, there was a tendency for extracellular DA to show a small increase. These results demonstrate that transient increases in accumbens DA release occur during the initial acquisition of ratio performance, and suggest that core and shell subregions show different temporal patterns during acquisition of instrumental behavior.
Copyright © 2011 IBRO. Published by Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.