Mesolimbic dopamine projections to the nucleus accumbens (NAc) have been implicated in goal-directed behaviors for natural rewards and in learning processes involving cue-reward associations. The NAc has been traditionally subdivided into two anatomically distinct sub-regions with different functional properties: the shell and the core. The aim of the present study was to characterize rapid dopamine transmission across the two NAc sub-regions during cue-signaled operant behavior for a natural (sucrose) reward in rats. Using fast-scan cyclic voltammetry (FSCV) we observed differences in the magnitude and dynamics of dopamine release events between the shell and core. Specifically, although cue-evoked dopamine release was observed in both sub-regions, it was larger and longer lasting in the shell compared with the core. Further, secondary dopamine release events were observed following the lever press response for sucrose in the NAc shell, but not the core. These findings demonstrate that the NAc displays regional specificity in dopamine transmission patterns during cued operant behavior for natural reward.
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