Hippocampal place cells support reward-related spatial memories by forming a cognitive map that over-represents reward locations. The strength of these memories is modulated by the extent of reward expectation during encoding. However, the circuit mechanisms underlying this modulation are unclear. Here we find that when reward expectation is extinguished in mice, they remain engaged with their environment, yet place cell over-representation of rewards vanishes, place field remapping throughout the environment increases, and place field trial-to-trial reliability decreases. Interestingly, Ventral Tegmental Area (VTA) dopaminergic axons in CA1 exhibit a ramping reward-proximity signal that depends on reward expectation and inhibiting VTA dopaminergic neurons largely replicates the effects of extinguishing reward expectation. We conclude that changing reward expectation restructures CA1 cognitive maps and determines map reliability by modulating the dopaminergic VTA-CA1 reward-proximity signal. Thus, internal states of high reward expectation enhance encoding of spatial memories by reinforcing hippocampal cognitive maps associated with reward.
© 2022. The Author(s).