Midbrain dopamine neurons signal phasic and ramping reward prediction error during goal-directed navigation

Cell Rep. 2022 Oct 11;41(2):111470. doi: 10.1016/j.celrep.2022.111470.


Goal-directed navigation requires learning to accurately estimate location and select optimal actions in each location. Midbrain dopamine neurons are involved in reward value learning and have been linked to reward location learning. They are therefore ideally placed to provide teaching signals for goal-directed navigation. By imaging dopamine neural activity as mice learned to actively navigate a closed-loop virtual reality corridor to obtain reward, we observe phasic and pre-reward ramping dopamine activity, which are modulated by learning stage and task engagement. A Q-learning model incorporating position inference recapitulates our results, displaying prediction errors resembling phasic and ramping dopamine neural activity. The model predicts that ramping is followed by improved task performance, which we confirm in our experimental data, indicating that the dopamine ramp may have a teaching effect. Our results suggest that midbrain dopamine neurons encode phasic and ramping reward prediction error signals to improve goal-directed navigation.

Keywords: CP: Neuroscience; Q-learning; TD error; VTA; dopamine; goal-directed; miniscope; navigation; ramping; reinforcement learning; virtual reality.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Dopamine* / physiology
  • Dopaminergic Neurons*
  • Goals
  • Mesencephalon / physiology
  • Mice
  • Reward


  • Dopamine