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J Neurosci. 2012 Oct 17;32(42):14804-8. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.3087-12.2012.

Subsecond dopamine release in the nucleus accumbens predicts conditioned punishment and its successful avoidance.

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  • 1Department of Anatomy and Neurobiology, University of Maryland School of Medicine, Baltimore, Maryland 21201, USA.


The mesolimbic dopamine system is believed to be a pathway that processes rewarding information. While previous studies have also implicated a general role for dopamine in punishment and its avoidance, the precise nature of subsecond dopamine release during these phenomena remains unknown. Here, we used fast-scan cyclic voltammetry to investigate whether subsecond dopamine release events in the nucleus accumbens encode cues predicting the avoidance of punishment during behavior maintained in a signaled footshock avoidance procedure. In this task, rats could initiate an avoidance response by pressing a lever within a warning period, preventing footshock. Alternatively, once footshocks commenced, animals could initiate an escape response by pressing the lever, terminating footshock. This design allowed us to assess subsecond dopamine release events during the presentation of a warning signal, safety periods, and two distinct behavioral responses. We found that release consistently increased upon presentation of the warning signal in a manner that reliably predicted successful punishment avoidance. We also observed subsecond dopamine release during the safety period, as occurs following the receipt of reward. Conversely, we observed a decrease in release at the warning signal during escape responses. Because of this finding, we next assessed dopamine release in a conditioned fear model. As seen during escape responses, we observed a time-locked decrease in dopamine release upon presentation of a cue conditioned to inescapable footshock. Together, these data show that subsecond fluctuations in mesolimbic dopamine release predict when rats will successfully avoid punishment and differentially encode cues related to aversive outcomes.

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