Initially-neutral cues paired with rewards are thought to acquire motivational significance, as if the incentive motivational value of the reward is transferred to the cue. Such cues may serve as secondary reinforcers to establish new learning, modulate the performance of instrumental action (Pavlovian-instrumental transfer, PIT), and be the targets of approach and other cue-directed behaviors. Here we examined the effects of lesions of the ventral striatal nucleus accumbens (ACb) and the basolateral amygdala (BLA) on the acquisition of discriminative autoshaped lever-pressing in rats. Insertion of one lever into the experimental chamber was reinforced by sucrose delivery, but insertion of another lever was not reinforced. Although sucrose was delivered independently of the rats' behavior, sham-lesioned rats rapidly came to press the reinforced but not the nonreinforced lever. Bilateral ACb lesions impaired the initial acquisition of sign-tracking but not its terminal levels. In contrast, BLA lesions produced substantial deficits in terminal levels of sign-tracking. Furthermore, whereas ACb lesions primarily affected the probability of lever press responses, BLA lesions mostly affected the rate of responding once it occurred. Finally, disconnection lesions that disrupted communication between ACb and BLA produced both sets of deficits. We suggest that ACb is important for initial acquisition of consummatory-like responses that incorporate hedonic aspects of the reward, while BLA serves to enhance such incentive salience once it is acquired.
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