Contributions of nucleus accumbens dopamine to cognitive flexibility

Eur J Neurosci. 2019 Aug;50(3):2023-2035. doi: 10.1111/ejn.14152. Epub 2018 Oct 10.


There is a compelling evidence that midbrain dopamine (DA) neurons and their projections to the ventral striatum provide a mechanism for motivating reward-seeking behavior, and for utilizing information about unexpected reward prediction errors (RPEs) to guide behavior based on current, rather than historical, outcomes. When this mechanism is compromised in addictions, it may produce patterns of maladaptive behavior that remain obdurate in the face of contrary information and even adverse consequences. Nonetheless, DAergic contributions to performance on behavioral tasks that rely on the ability to flexibly update stimulus-reward relationships remains incompletly understood. In the current study, we used a discrimination and reversal paradigm to monitor subsecond DA release in mouse NAc core (NAc) using in vivo fast-scan cyclic voltammetry (FSCV). We observed post-choice elevations in phasic NAc DA release; however, increased DA transients were only evident during early reversal when mice made responses at the newly rewarded stimulus. Based on this finding, we used in vivo optogenetic (eNpHR) photosilencing and (Channelrhodopsin2 [ChR2]) photostimulation to assess the effects of manipulating VTA-DAergic fibers in the NAc on reversal performance. Photosilencing the VTA → NAc DAergic pathway during early reversal increased errors, while photostimulation did not demonstrably affect behavior. Taken together, these data provide additional evidence of the importance of NAc DA release as a neural substrate supporting adjustments in learned behavior after a switch in expected stimulus-reward contingencies. These findings have possible implications for furthering understanding the role of DA in persistent, maladaptive decision-making characterizing addictions.

Keywords: mouse; optogenetics; prediction error; reversal learning; voltammetry.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cognition / physiology*
  • Conditioning, Operant / physiology*
  • Dopaminergic Neurons / metabolism
  • Male
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Motivation / physiology
  • Nucleus Accumbens / physiology*
  • Reward*
  • Ventral Tegmental Area / physiology