Reward and choice encoding in terminals of midbrain dopamine neurons depends on striatal target

Nat Neurosci. 2016 Jun;19(6):845-54. doi: 10.1038/nn.4287. Epub 2016 Apr 25.


Dopaminergic (DA) neurons in the midbrain provide rich topographic innervation of the striatum and are central to learning and to generating actions. Despite the importance of this DA innervation, it remains unclear whether and how DA neurons are specialized on the basis of the location of their striatal target. Thus, we sought to compare the function of subpopulations of DA neurons that target distinct striatal subregions in the context of an instrumental reversal learning task. We identified key differences in the encoding of reward and choice in dopamine terminals in dorsal versus ventral striatum: DA terminals in ventral striatum responded more strongly to reward consumption and reward-predicting cues, whereas DA terminals in dorsomedial striatum responded more strongly to contralateral choices. In both cases the terminals encoded a reward prediction error. Our results suggest that the DA modulation of the striatum is spatially organized to support the specialized function of the targeted subregion.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Choice Behavior / physiology*
  • Corpus Striatum / physiology*
  • Dopamine / metabolism*
  • Dopaminergic Neurons / physiology*
  • Learning / physiology*
  • Male
  • Mesencephalon / physiology
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Mice, Transgenic
  • Reward*


  • Dopamine