Distinct representations of cognitive and motivational signals in midbrain dopamine neurons

Neuron. 2013 Sep 4;79(5):1011-24. doi: 10.1016/j.neuron.2013.07.002. Epub 2013 Aug 8.


Dopamine is essential to cognitive functions. However, despite abundant studies demonstrating that dopamine neuron activity is related to reinforcement and motivation, little is known about what signals dopamine neurons convey to promote cognitive processing. We therefore examined dopamine neuron activity in monkeys performing a delayed matching-to-sample task that required working memory and visual search. We found that dopamine neurons responded to task events associated with cognitive operations. A subset of dopamine neurons were activated by visual stimuli if the monkey had to store the stimuli in working memory. These neurons were located dorsolaterally in the substantia nigra pars compacta, whereas ventromedial dopamine neurons, some in the ventral tegmental area, represented reward prediction signals. Furthermore, dopamine neurons monitored visual search performance, becoming active when the monkey made an internal judgment that the search was successfully completed. Our findings suggest an anatomical gradient of dopamine signals along the dorsolateral-ventromedial axis of the ventral midbrain.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Action Potentials / physiology*
  • Animals
  • Cognition / physiology*
  • Dopaminergic Neurons / physiology*
  • Macaca mulatta
  • Male
  • Memory, Short-Term / physiology
  • Motivation / physiology*
  • Reinforcement, Psychology
  • Substantia Nigra / cytology*
  • Substantia Nigra / physiology
  • Ventral Tegmental Area / cytology*
  • Ventral Tegmental Area / physiology