Enriched encoding: reward motivation organizes cortical networks for hippocampal detection of unexpected events

Cereb Cortex. 2014 Aug;24(8):2160-8. doi: 10.1093/cercor/bht063. Epub 2013 Mar 25.


Learning how to obtain rewards requires learning about their contexts and likely causes. How do long-term memory mechanisms balance the need to represent potential determinants of reward outcomes with the computational burden of an over-inclusive memory? One solution would be to enhance memory for salient events that occur during reward anticipation, because all such events are potential determinants of reward. We tested whether reward motivation enhances encoding of salient events like expectancy violations. During functional magnetic resonance imaging, participants performed a reaction-time task in which goal-irrelevant expectancy violations were encountered during states of high- or low-reward motivation. Motivation amplified hippocampal activation to and declarative memory for expectancy violations. Connectivity of the ventral tegmental area (VTA) with medial prefrontal, ventrolateral prefrontal, and visual cortices preceded and predicted this increase in hippocampal sensitivity. These findings elucidate a novel mechanism whereby reward motivation can enhance hippocampus-dependent memory: anticipatory VTA-cortical-hippocampal interactions. Further, the findings integrate literatures on dopaminergic neuromodulation of prefrontal function and hippocampus-dependent memory. We conclude that during reward motivation, VTA modulation induces distributed neural changes that amplify hippocampal signals and records of expectancy violations to improve predictions-a potentially unique contribution of the hippocampus to reward learning.

Keywords: expectancy violation; hippocampus; motivation; reward; ventral tegmental area.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Anticipation, Psychological / physiology
  • Brain Mapping
  • Cerebral Cortex / physiology*
  • Cues
  • Female
  • Goals
  • Hippocampus / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Learning / physiology
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Memory / physiology*
  • Motivation / physiology*
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Reaction Time
  • Reward*
  • Ventral Tegmental Area / physiology
  • Young Adult