Different populations of subthalamic neurons encode cocaine vs. sucrose reward and predict future error

J Neurophysiol. 2013 Oct;110(7):1497-510. doi: 10.1152/jn.00160.2013. Epub 2013 Jul 17.


The search for treatment of cocaine addiction raises the challenge to find a way to diminish motivation for the drug without decreasing it for natural rewards. Subthalamic nucleus (STN) inactivation decreases motivation for cocaine while increasing motivation for food, suggesting that STN can dissociate different rewards. Here, we investigated how rat STN neurons respond to cues predicting cocaine or sucrose and to reward delivery while rats are performing a discriminative stimuli task. We show that different neuronal populations of STN neurons encode cocaine and sucrose. In addition, we show that STN activity at the cue onset predicts future error. When changing the reward predicted unexpectedly, STN neurons show capacities of adaptation, suggesting a role in reward-prediction error. Furthermore, some STN neurons show a response to executive error (i.e., "oops neurons") that is specific to the missed reward. These results position the STN as a nexus where natural rewards and drugs of abuse are coded differentially and can influence the performance. Therefore, STN can be viewed as a structure where action could be taken for the treatment of cocaine addiction.

Keywords: basal ganglia; electrophysiology; incentive cue; motivation; neurons.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological
  • Animals
  • Cocaine / pharmacology*
  • Cues
  • Discrimination, Psychological*
  • Male
  • Neurons / classification
  • Neurons / drug effects
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Rats
  • Rats, Long-Evans
  • Reward*
  • Subthalamic Nucleus / cytology
  • Subthalamic Nucleus / physiology*
  • Sucrose / pharmacology*


  • Sucrose
  • Cocaine