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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2011 Jul 5;108(27):E255-64. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1101920108. Epub 2011 Jun 13.

Disentangling pleasure from incentive salience and learning signals in brain reward circuitry.

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Department of Psychology, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI 48109, USA.


Multiple signals for reward-hedonic impact, motivation, and learned associative prediction-are funneled through brain mesocorticolimbic circuits involving the nucleus accumbens and ventral pallidum. Here, we show how the hedonic "liking" and motivation "wanting" signals for a sweet reward are distinctly modulated and tracked in this circuit separately from signals for Pavlovian predictions (learning). Animals first learned to associate a fixed sequence of Pavlovian cues with sucrose reward. Subsequent intraaccumbens microinjections of an opioid-stimulating drug increased the hedonic liking impact of sucrose in behavior and firing signals of ventral pallidum neurons, and likewise, they increased incentive salience signals in firing to the reward-proximal incentive cue (but did not alter firing signals to the learned prediction value of a reward-distal cue). Microinjection of a dopamine-stimulating drug instead enhanced only the motivation component but did not alter hedonic impact or learned prediction signals. Different dedicated neuronal subpopulations in the ventral pallidum tracked signal enhancements for hedonic impact vs. incentive salience, and a faster firing pattern also distinguished incentive signals from slower hedonic signals, even for a third overlapping population. These results reveal separate neural representations of wanting, liking, and prediction components of the same reward within the nucleus accumbens to ventral pallidum segment of mesocorticolimbic circuitry.

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