Neuronal activity in the ventral tegmental area (VTA) during motivated bar press feeding in the monkey

Brain Res. 1987 Jun 16;413(2):302-13. doi: 10.1016/0006-8993(87)91021-3.


Neuronal activity of 58 dopaminergic (DA) and 200 non-dopaminergic (non-DA) neurons in the ventral tegmental area (VTA) of female monkeys was recorded, and correlation to bar press feeding, sensory stimulation and change in motivation was investigated. DA neurons, judged by duration of action potentials (more than 2.5 ms) and responsiveness to apomorphine, had lower firing rates (0-8 impulses/s); non-DA neurons had intermediate firing rates (10-30 impulses/s). Two-thirds of the DA and non-DA neurons responded in bar press feeding; the former with mostly tonic and the latter with phasic responses. Fifteen neurons (5%) responded phasically to arm extension toward the bar, 124 (excitation 88, inhibition 36, 45%) during bar press (BP), and 91 (excitation 32, inhibition 59, 33%) during ingestion reward (RW). Most BP responses (84/124, 68%) continued tonically throughout the BP period with no correlation to each BP movement. In 14 neurons (14/124, 11%), firing showed a specific variation: transient early BP responses shifted to tonic steady ones in palatable food trials, and the shifts correlated well with BP speed. In 20 other neurons, firing increased during BP hip lifting, and at specific vocalization to ask for food; it decreased during food ingestion, drinking and inguino-crural stimulation. Apomorphine administration decreased firing for the first 5-15 min, then increased it with frequent lip smacking, nausea, involuntary movement and vocalization. Thus VTA neurons showed mostly steady tonic responses but some specific phasic responses. They responded not only to motor events but also in close relation to changes of motivational aspects. Neuronal responses were excitation during procurement of reward and inhibition during or after perception of reward. This modulation in firing, might be important in the initiation and execution of movement and/or motivated behavior.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Action Potentials / drug effects
  • Animals
  • Apomorphine / pharmacology
  • Conditioning, Operant / physiology*
  • Dopamine / metabolism
  • Dopamine / physiology*
  • Drinking Behavior / physiology
  • Feeding Behavior / physiology*
  • Female
  • Macaca
  • Reinforcement, Psychology
  • Tegmentum Mesencephali / drug effects
  • Tegmentum Mesencephali / physiology*
  • Vocalization, Animal / drug effects
  • Vocalization, Animal / physiology


  • Apomorphine
  • Dopamine