Rapid signalling in distinct dopaminergic axons during locomotion and reward

Nature. 2016 Jul 28;535(7613):505-10. doi: 10.1038/nature18942. Epub 2016 Jul 11.


Dopaminergic projection axons from the midbrain to the striatum are crucial for motor control, as their degeneration in Parkinson disease results in profound movement deficits. Paradoxically, most recording methods report rapid phasic dopamine signalling (~100-ms bursts) in response to unpredicted rewards, with little evidence for movement-related signalling. The leading model posits that phasic signalling in striatum-targeting dopamine neurons drives reward-based learning, whereas slow variations in firing (tens of seconds to minutes) in these same neurons bias animals towards or away from movement. However, current methods have provided little evidence to support or refute this model. Here, using new optical recording methods, we report the discovery of rapid phasic signalling in striatum-targeting dopaminergic axons that is associated with, and capable of triggering, locomotion in mice. Axons expressing these signals were largely distinct from those that responded to unexpected rewards. These results suggest that dopaminergic neuromodulation can differentially impact motor control and reward learning with sub-second precision, and indicate that both precise signal timing and neuronal subtype are important parameters to consider in the treatment of dopamine-related disorders.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Acceleration
  • Animals
  • Axons / metabolism*
  • Dopamine / metabolism*
  • Dopaminergic Neurons / metabolism*
  • Female
  • Learning / physiology
  • Locomotion / physiology*
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Neostriatum / cytology
  • Neostriatum / metabolism
  • Optogenetics
  • Reward*
  • Signal Transduction
  • Time Factors


  • Dopamine