The mysterious motivational functions of mesolimbic dopamine

Neuron. 2012 Nov 8;76(3):470-85. doi: 10.1016/j.neuron.2012.10.021.


Nucleus accumbens dopamine is known to play a role in motivational processes, and dysfunctions of mesolimbic dopamine may contribute to motivational symptoms of depression and other disorders, as well as features of substance abuse. Although it has become traditional to label dopamine neurons as "reward" neurons, this is an overgeneralization, and it is important to distinguish between aspects of motivation that are differentially affected by dopaminergic manipulations. For example, accumbens dopamine does not mediate primary food motivation or appetite, but is involved in appetitive and aversive motivational processes including behavioral activation, exertion of effort, approach behavior, sustained task engagement, Pavlovian processes, and instrumental learning. In this review, we discuss the complex roles of dopamine in behavioral functions related to motivation.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Appetitive Behavior / physiology
  • Dopamine / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Limbic System / physiology*
  • Motivation / physiology*
  • Nucleus Accumbens / physiology*


  • Dopamine