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J Neurosci. 2008 Dec 24;28(52):14311-9. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.2058-08.2008.

Mesolimbic functional magnetic resonance imaging activations during reward anticipation correlate with reward-related ventral striatal dopamine release.

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Department of Behavioral Neurology, Leibniz Institute for Neurobiology, 39118 Magdeburg, Germany.


The dopaminergic mechanisms that control reward-motivated behavior are the subject of intense study, but it is yet unclear how, in humans, neural activity in mesolimbic reward-circuitry and its functional neuroimaging correlates are related to dopamine release. To address this question, we obtained functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) measures of reward-related neural activity and [(11)C]raclopride positron emission tomography measures of dopamine release in the same human participants, while they performed a delayed monetary incentive task. Across the cohort, a positive correlation emerged between neural activity of the substantia nigra/ventral tegmental area (SN/VTA), the main origin of dopaminergic neurotransmission, during reward anticipation and reward-related [(11)C]raclopride displacement as an index of dopamine release in the ventral striatum, major target of SN/VTA dopamine neurons. Neural activity in the ventral striatum/nucleus accumbens itself also correlated with ventral striatal dopamine release. Additionally, high-reward-related dopamine release was associated with increased activation of limbic structures, such as the amygdala and the hippocampus. The observed correlations of reward-related mesolimbic fMRI activation and dopamine release provide evidence that dopaminergic neurotransmission plays a quantitative role in human mesolimbic reward processing. Moreover, the combined neurochemical and hemodynamic imaging approach used here opens up new perspectives for the investigation of molecular mechanisms underlying human cognition.

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