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J Neurosci. 2012 Aug 8;32(32):11032-41. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.1051-12.2012.

Role of dopamine tone in the pursuit of brain stimulation reward.

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Centre for Research in Behavioural Neurobiology/FRQS Groupe de recherche en Neurobiologie Comportementale, Concordia University, Montréal, Québec, Canada.


Dopaminergic neurons contribute to intracranial self-stimulation (ICSS) and other reward-seeking behaviors, but it is not yet known where dopaminergic neurons intervene in the neural circuitry underlying reward pursuit or which psychological processes are involved. In rats working for electrical stimulation of the medial forebrain bundle, we assessed the effect of GBR-12909 (1-[2-[bis(4-fluorophenyl)-methoxy]ethyl]-4-[3- phenylpropyl]piperazine), a specific blocker of the dopamine transporter. Operant performance was measured as a function of the strength and cost of electrical stimulation. GBR-12909 increased the opportunity cost most subjects were willing to pay for a reward of a given intensity. However, this effect was smaller than that produced by a regimen of cocaine administration that drove similar increases in nucleus accumbens (NAc) dopamine levels in unstimulated rats. Delivery of rewarding stimulation to drug-treated rats caused an additional increase in dopamine concentration in the NAc shell in cocaine-treated, but not GBR-12909-treated, rats. These behavioral and neurochemical differences may reflect blockade of the norepinephrine transporter by cocaine but not by GBR-12909. Whereas the effect of psychomotor stimulants on ICSS has long been attributed to dopaminergic action at early stages of the reward pathway, the results reported here imply that increased dopamine tone boosts reward pursuit by acting at or beyond the output of the circuitry that temporally and spatially summates the output of the directly stimulated neurons underlying ICSS. The observed enhancement of reward seeking could be attributable to a decrease in the value of competing behaviors, a decrease in subjective effort costs, or an increase in reward-system gain.

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