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Behav Neurosci. 2010 Apr;124(2):234-47. doi: 10.1037/a0018865.

Conjunctive encoding of movement and reward by ventral tegmental area neurons in the freely navigating rodent.

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Picower Institute for Learning and Memory, MassachusettsInstitute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA.

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  • Behav Neurosci. 2010 Jun;124(3):336.


As one of the two main sources of brain dopamine, the ventral tegmental area (VTA) is important for several complex functions, including motivation, reward prediction, and contextual learning. Although many studies have identified the potential neural substrate of VTA dopaminergic activity in reward prediction functions during Pavlovian and operant conditioning tasks, less is understood about the role of VTA neuronal activity in motivated behaviors and more naturalistic forms of context-dependent learning. Therefore, VTA neural activity was recorded as rats performed a spatial memory task under varying contextual conditions. In addition to reward- and reward predicting cue-related firing commonly observed during conditioning tasks, the activity of a large proportion of VTA neurons was also related to the velocity and/or acceleration of the animal's movement. It is important to note that movement-related activity was strongest when rats displayed more motivation to obtain reward. Furthermore, many cells displayed a dual code of movement- and reward-related activity. These two modes of firing, however, were differentially regulated by context information, suggesting that movement- and reward-related firing are two independently regulated modes of VTA neuronal activity and may serve separate functions.

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