Dopamine neurons promote learning by processing recent changes in reward values, such that reward may be maximized. However, such a flexible signal is not suitable for habitual behaviors that are sustained regardless of recent changes in reward outcome. We discovered a type of dopamine neuron in the monkey substantia nigra pars compacta (SNc) that retains past learned reward values stably. After reward values of visual objects are learned, these neurons continue to respond differentially to the objects, even when reward is not expected. Responses are strengthened by repeated learning and are evoked upon presentation of the objects long after learning is completed. These "sustain-type" dopamine neurons are confined to the caudal-lateral SNc and project to the caudate tail, which encodes long-term value memories of visual objects and guides gaze automatically to stably valued objects. This population of dopamine neurons thus selectively promotes learning and retention of habitual behavior.
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