Activity of neurons in the ventral tegmental region of the behaving monkey

Behav Brain Res. 1983 Aug;9(2):213-35. doi: 10.1016/0166-4328(83)90129-8.


To investigate the functions of neurons in the ventral tegmental area, recordings were made of the activity of 257 single neurons in this area in the behaving monkey. Four main types of neuronal response were found in the ventral part of the tegmentum. First, neurons with activity phasically related to mouth or arm movements were found. Most of these were located relatively far lateral, close to the junction of the midbrain reticular formation with the zona incerta, or were in the substantia nigra, pars reticulata. Second, neurons were found which responded differentially in a visual discrimination task on trials on which the monkey had to initiate a licking response compared with trials on which he did not, and which also altered their firing rate tonically while mouth movements were being made in other situations (differential motor neurons). These were found mainly in the midbrain reticular formation, consistent with the view that populations of neurons in these regions are involved in the execution of movements. Third, neurons which also responded differentially in the visual discrimination task, but did not respond when the same movements were made in other situations, were found in the ventral tegmental area, in a region medial to and in some cases immediately dorsal to the substantia nigra pars compacta. Fourth, neurons which responded to cues such as a tone which enabled the monkey to prepare for performance on each trial of the visual discrimination task were found in the ventral tegmental area close to the midline. These third and fourth types of neurons were thus found in the region where neurons of the mesocortical and mesolimbic pathways are located. Their responses are similar to those of neurons found in the striatum, and it is suggested that they are important in enabling the animal to prepare for and then to engage in particular behavioral responses.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Arousal / physiology
  • Attention / physiology
  • Brain Mapping
  • Conditioning, Operant / physiology*
  • Cues
  • Discrimination Learning / physiology
  • Evoked Potentials
  • Macaca fascicularis
  • Male
  • Mesencephalon / physiology
  • Neural Pathways / physiology
  • Neurons / physiology
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology
  • Reticular Formation / physiology
  • Substantia Nigra / physiology
  • Synaptic Transmission*
  • Tegmentum Mesencephali / physiology*