Mesolimbic Dopamine and the Regulation of Motivated Behavior

Curr Top Behav Neurosci. 2016;27:231-57. doi: 10.1007/7854_2015_383.


It has been known for some time that nucleus accumbens dopamine (DA) is involved in aspects of motivation , but theoretical approaches to understanding the functions of DA have continued to evolve based upon emerging data and novel concepts. Although it has become traditional to label DA neurons as "reward" neurons, the actual findings are more complicated than that, because they indicate that DA neurons can respond to a variety of motivationally significant stimuli. Moreover, it is important to distinguish between aspects of motivation that are differentially affected by dopaminergic manipulations. Studies that involve nucleus accumbens DA antagonism or depletion indicate that accumbens DA does not mediate primary food motivation or appetite. Nevertheless, DA is involved in appetitive and aversive motivational processes including behavioral activation , exertion of effort, sustained task engagement, and Pavlovian-to-instrumental transfer. Interference with accumbens DA transmission affects instrumental behavior in a manner that interacts with the response requirements of the task and also shifts effort-related choice behavior, biasing animals toward low-effort alternatives. Dysfunctions of mesolimbic DA may contribute to motivational symptoms seen in various psychopathologies, including depression , schizophrenia, parkinsonism, and other disorders.

Keywords: Accumbens; Anergia; Behavioral activation; Depression; Dopamine; Fatigue; Motivation; Reward.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Appetitive Behavior / physiology
  • Conditioning, Classical / physiology
  • Depression / physiopathology
  • Depression / psychology
  • Dopamine / physiology*
  • Dopaminergic Neurons / physiology*
  • Economics, Behavioral
  • Humans
  • Motivation / physiology*
  • Nucleus Accumbens / physiology*
  • Nucleus Accumbens / physiopathology
  • Parkinsonian Disorders / physiopathology
  • Parkinsonian Disorders / psychology
  • Schizophrenia / physiopathology
  • Schizophrenic Psychology


  • Dopamine