Dopaminergic error signals retune to social feedback during courtship

Nature. 2023 Nov;623(7986):375-380. doi: 10.1038/s41586-023-06580-w. Epub 2023 Sep 27.


Hunger, thirst, loneliness and ambition determine the reward value of food, water, social interaction and performance outcome1. Dopamine neurons respond to rewards meeting these diverse needs2-8, but it remains unclear how behaviour and dopamine signals change as priorities change with new opportunities in the environment. One possibility is that dopamine signals for distinct drives are routed to distinct dopamine pathways9,10. Another possibility is that dopamine signals in a given pathway are dynamically tuned to rewards set by the current priority. Here we used electrophysiology and fibre photometry to test how dopamine signals associated with quenching thirst, singing a good song and courting a mate change as male zebra finches (Taeniopygia guttata) were provided with opportunities to retrieve water, evaluate song performance or court a female. When alone, water reward signals were observed in two mesostriatal pathways but singing-related performance error signals were routed to Area X, a striatal nucleus specialized for singing. When courting a female, water seeking was reduced and dopamine responses to both water and song performance outcomes diminished. Instead, dopamine signals in Area X were driven by female calls timed with the courtship song. Thus the dopamine system handled coexisting drives by routing vocal performance and social feedback signals to a striatal area for communication and by flexibly re-tuning to rewards set by the prioritized drive.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain* / cytology
  • Brain* / physiology
  • Communication
  • Courtship*
  • Dopamine* / metabolism
  • Dopaminergic Neurons* / metabolism
  • Drinking / physiology
  • Electrophysiology
  • Feedback, Physiological* / physiology
  • Feedback, Psychological* / physiology
  • Female
  • Finches* / physiology
  • Male
  • Reward
  • Thirst / physiology
  • Vocalization, Animal / physiology
  • Water


  • Dopamine
  • Water