The timing of action determines reward prediction signals in identified midbrain dopamine neurons

Nat Neurosci. 2018 Nov;21(11):1563-1573. doi: 10.1038/s41593-018-0245-7. Epub 2018 Oct 15.


Animals adapt their behavior in response to informative sensory cues using multiple brain circuits. The activity of midbrain dopaminergic neurons is thought to convey a critical teaching signal: reward-prediction error. Although reward-prediction error signals are thought to be essential to learning, little is known about the dynamic changes in the activity of midbrain dopaminergic neurons as animals learn about novel sensory cues and appetitive rewards. Here we describe a large dataset of cell-attached recordings of identified dopaminergic neurons as naive mice learned a novel cue-reward association. During learning midbrain dopaminergic neuron activity results from the summation of sensory cue-related and movement initiation-related response components. These components are both a function of reward expectation yet they are dissociable. Learning produces an increasingly precise coordination of action initiation following sensory cues that results in apparent reward-prediction error correlates. Our data thus provide new insights into the circuit mechanisms that underlie a critical computation in a highly conserved learning circuit.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cues
  • Dopaminergic Neurons / physiology*
  • Learning / physiology*
  • Mesencephalon / physiology*
  • Mice
  • Reward*