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J Neurosci. 2000 Oct 15;20(20):7737-42.

Coincident activation of NMDA and dopamine D1 receptors within the nucleus accumbens core is required for appetitive instrumental learning.

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Department of Psychiatry, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, Wisconsin 53719, USA.


The nucleus accumbens, a brain structure ideally situated to act as an interface between corticolimbic information-processing regions and motor output systems, is well known to subserve behaviors governed by natural reinforcers. In the accumbens core, glutamatergic input from its corticolimbic afferents and dopaminergic input from the ventral tegmental area converge onto common dendrites of the medium spiny neurons that populate the accumbens. We have previously found that blockade of NMDA receptors in the core with the antagonist 2-amino-5-phosphonopentanoic acid (AP-5; 5 nmol) abolishes acquisition but not performance of an appetitive instrumental learning task (Kelley et al., 1997). Because it is currently hypothesized that concurrent dopamine D(1) and glutamate receptor activation is required for long-term changes associated with plasticity, we wished to examine whether the dopamine system in the accumbens core modulates learning via NMDA receptors. Co-infusion of low doses of the D(1) receptor antagonist SCH-23390 (0.3 nmol) and AP-5 (0.5 nmol) into the accumbens core strongly impaired acquisition of instrumental learning (lever pressing for food), whereas when infused separately, these low doses had no effect. Infusion of the combined low doses had no effect on indices of feeding and motor activity, suggesting a specific effect on learning. We hypothesize that co-activation of NMDA and D(1) receptors in the nucleus accumbens core is a key process for acquisition of appetitive instrumental learning. Such an interaction is likely to promote intracellular events and gene regulation necessary for synaptic plasticity and is supported by a number of cellular models.

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