Neurons in the ventral tegmental area (VTA) and substantia nigra pars compacta (SNC) play central roles in reward-related behaviours. Nonhuman animal studies suggest that these neurons also process aversive events. However, our understanding of how the human VTA and SNC responds to such events is limited and has been hindered by the technical challenge of using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to investigate a small structure where the signal is particularly vulnerable to physiological noise. Here we show, using methods optimized specifically for the midbrain (including high-resolution imaging, a novel registration protocol, and physiological noise modelling), a BOLD (blood-oxygen-level dependent) signal to both financial gain and loss in the VTA and SNC, along with a response to nil outcomes that are better or worse than expected in the VTA. Taken together, these findings suggest that the human VTA and SNC are involved in the processing of both appetitive and aversive financial outcomes in humans.
Keywords: functional magnetic resonance imaging; midbrain; punishment; reward; salience.
© 2018 The Authors. European Journal of Neuroscience published by Federation of European Neuroscience Societies and John Wiley & Sons Ltd.