Temporally restricted dopaminergic control of reward-conditioned movements

Nat Neurosci. 2020 Feb;23(2):209-216. doi: 10.1038/s41593-019-0567-0. Epub 2020 Jan 13.


Midbrain dopamine (DA) neurons encode both reward- and movement-related events and are implicated in disorders of reward processing as well as movement. Consequently, disentangling the contribution of DA neurons in reinforcing versus generating movements is challenging and has led to lasting controversy. In this study, we dissociated these functions by parametrically varying the timing of optogenetic manipulations in a Pavlovian conditioning task and examining the influence on anticipatory licking before reward delivery. Inhibiting both ventral tegmental area and substantia nigra pars compacta DA neurons in the post-reward period had a significantly greater behavioral effect than inhibition in the pre-reward period of the task. Furthermore, the contribution of DA neurons to behavior decreased linearly as a function of elapsed time after reward. Together, the results indicate a temporally restricted role of DA neurons primarily related to reinforcing stimulus-reward associations and suggest that directly generating movements is a comparatively less important function.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal / physiology
  • Conditioning, Classical
  • Dopamine / metabolism*
  • Dopaminergic Neurons / physiology*
  • Male
  • Mesencephalon / physiology*
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Movement / physiology*
  • Reward*


  • Dopamine