Dopamine Axons in Dorsal Striatum Encode Contralateral Visual Stimuli and Choices

J Neurosci. 2021 Aug 25;41(34):7197-7205. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.0490-21.2021. Epub 2021 Jul 12.


The striatum plays critical roles in visually-guided decision-making and receives dense axonal projections from midbrain dopamine neurons. However, the roles of striatal dopamine in visual decision-making are poorly understood. We trained male and female mice to perform a visual decision task with asymmetric reward payoff, and we recorded the activity of dopamine axons innervating striatum. Dopamine axons in the dorsomedial striatum (DMS) responded to contralateral visual stimuli and contralateral rewarded actions. Neural responses to contralateral stimuli could not be explained by orienting behavior such as eye movements. Moreover, these contralateral stimulus responses persisted in sessions where the animals were instructed to not move to obtain reward, further indicating that these signals are stimulus-related. Lastly, we show that DMS dopamine signals were qualitatively different from dopamine signals in the ventral striatum (VS), which responded to both ipsilateral and contralateral stimuli, conforming to canonical prediction error signaling under sensory uncertainty. Thus, during visual decisions, DMS dopamine encodes visual stimuli and rewarded actions in a lateralized fashion, and could facilitate associations between specific visual stimuli and actions.SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT While the striatum is central to goal-directed behavior, the precise roles of its rich dopaminergic innervation in perceptual decision-making are poorly understood. We found that in a visual decision task, dopamine axons in the dorsomedial striatum (DMS) signaled stimuli presented contralaterally to the recorded hemisphere, as well as the onset of rewarded actions. Stimulus-evoked signals persisted in a no-movement task variant. We distinguish the patterns of these signals from those in the ventral striatum (VS). Our results contribute to the characterization of region-specific dopaminergic signaling in the striatum and highlight a role in stimulus-action association learning.

Keywords: dopamine; dorsal striatum; mice; sensory uncertainty; ventral striatum; visual decision.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Association Learning / physiology*
  • Axons / physiology*
  • Choice Behavior / physiology*
  • Corpus Striatum / cytology
  • Corpus Striatum / physiology*
  • Dominance, Cerebral
  • Dopamine / physiology
  • Dopaminergic Neurons / physiology*
  • Eye Movements / physiology
  • Female
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Nerve Fibers / ultrastructure
  • Photic Stimulation*
  • Reward*


  • Dopamine