A food-predictive cue attributed with incentive salience engages subcortical afferents and efferents of the paraventricular nucleus of the thalamus

Neuroscience. 2017 Jan 6;340:135-152. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroscience.2016.10.043. Epub 2016 Oct 25.


The paraventricular nucleus of the thalamus (PVT) has been implicated in behavioral responses to reward-associated cues. However, the precise role of the PVT in these behaviors has been difficult to ascertain since Pavlovian-conditioned cues can act as both predictive and incentive stimuli. The "sign-tracker/goal-tracker" rat model has allowed us to further elucidate the role of the PVT in cue-motivated behaviors, identifying this structure as a critical component of the neural circuitry underlying individual variation in the propensity to attribute incentive salience to reward cues. The current study assessed differences in the engagement of specific PVT afferents and efferents in response to presentation of a food-cue that had been attributed with only predictive value or with both predictive and incentive value. The retrograde tracer fluorogold (FG) was injected into the PVT or the nucleus accumbens (NAc) of rats, and cue-induced c-Fos in FG-labeled cells was quantified. Presentation of a predictive stimulus that had been attributed with incentive value elicited c-Fos in PVT afferents from the lateral hypothalamus, medial amygdala (MeA), and the prelimbic cortex (PrL), as well as posterior PVT efferents to the NAc. PVT afferents from the PrL also showed elevated c-Fos levels following presentation of a predictive stimulus alone. Thus, presentation of an incentive stimulus results in engagement of subcortical brain regions; supporting a role for the hypothalamic-thalamic-striatal axis, as well as the MeA, in mediating responses to incentive stimuli; whereas activity in the PrL to PVT pathway appears to play a role in processing the predictive qualities of reward-paired stimuli.

Keywords: goal-tracking; incentive salience; motivated behavior; paraventricular nucleus of the thalamus; sign-tracking.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Amygdala / cytology
  • Amygdala / physiology
  • Animals
  • Anticipation, Psychological / physiology*
  • Cerebral Cortex / cytology
  • Cerebral Cortex / physiology
  • Corpus Striatum / cytology
  • Corpus Striatum / physiology
  • Cues
  • Feeding Behavior / physiology*
  • Food
  • Goals
  • Male
  • Midline Thalamic Nuclei / cytology
  • Midline Thalamic Nuclei / physiology*
  • Motivation / physiology
  • Neural Pathways / cytology
  • Neural Pathways / physiology
  • Neurons / cytology
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Nucleus Accumbens / cytology
  • Nucleus Accumbens / physiology
  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-fos / metabolism
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Reward*


  • Proto-Oncogene Proteins c-fos