Functional architecture of dopamine neurons driving fear extinction learning

Neuron. 2023 Sep 15:S0896-6273(23)00636-0. doi: 10.1016/j.neuron.2023.08.025. Online ahead of print.


The ability to extinguish fear responses to stimuli that no longer predict danger is critical for adaptive behavior and increases the likelihood of survival. During fear extinction, dopamine (DA) neurons signal the absence of the expected aversive outcome, and this extinction prediction error (EPE) signal is crucial for initiating and driving extinction learning. However, the neural circuits underlying the EPE signal have remained elusive. Here, we investigate the input-output circuitry of EPE-encoding DA neurons in male mice. By employing projection-specific fiber photometry and optogenetics, we demonstrate that these neurons project to a restricted subregion of the nucleus accumbens. Comprehensive anatomical analyses, as well as projection-specific chemogenetic manipulations combined with recordings of DA biosensors, further uncover the dorsal raphe as one key input structure critical for generating the EPE signal. Together, our results reveal for the first time the functional architecture of EPE-encoding DA neurons crucial for driving fear extinction learning.

Keywords: dopamine; dorsal raphe; fear conditioning; fear extinction; nucleus accumbens; prediction error; reward; ventral tegmental area.