Send to

Choose Destination
Front Behav Neurosci. 2014 Mar 14;8:79. doi: 10.3389/fnbeh.2014.00079. eCollection 2014.

A potential role for the paraventricular nucleus of the thalamus in mediating individual variation in Pavlovian conditioned responses.

Author information

Neuroscience Graduate Program, University of Michigan Ann Arbor, MI, USA.
Neuroscience Graduate Program, University of Michigan Ann Arbor, MI, USA ; Department of Psychiatry, University of Michigan Ann Arbor, MI, USA ; Molecular and Behavioral Neuroscience Institute, University of Michigan Ann Arbor, MI, USA.


There is ample evidence to suggest that the paraventricular nucleus of the thalamus (PVT) mediates cue-reward learning, especially as it relates to drug-seeking behavior. However, its exact role in these complex processes remains unknown. Here we will present and discuss data from our own laboratory which suggests that the PVT plays a role in multiple forms of stimulus-reward learning, and does so via distinct neurobiological systems. Using an animal model that captures individual variation in response to reward-associated cues, we are able to parse the incentive from the predictive properties of reward cues and to elucidate the neural circuitry underlying these different forms of cue-reward learning. When rats are exposed to a classical Pavlovian conditioning paradigm, wherein a cue predicts food reward, some rats, termed sign-trackers, approach and manipulate the cue upon its presentation. This behavior is indicative of attributing incentive salience to the cue. That is, the cue gains excessive control over behavior for sign-trackers. In contrast, other rats, termed goal-trackers, treat the cue as a mere predictor, and upon its presentation go to the location of reward delivery. Based on our own data utilizing this model, we hypothesize that the PVT represents a common node, but differentially regulates the sign- vs. goal-tracking response. We postulate that the PVT regulates sign-tracking behavior, or the attribution of incentive salience, via subcortical, dopamine-dependent mechanisms. In contrast, we propose that goal-tracking behavior, or the attribution of predictive value, is the product of "top-down" glutamatergic processing between the prelimbic cortex (PrL) and the PVT. Together, data from our laboratory and others support a role for the PVT in cue-motivated behaviors and suggest that it may be an important locus within the neural circuitry that goes awry in addiction and related disorders.


addiction; cue-learning; goal-tracking; incentive salience; incentive stimuli; motivated behavior; paraventricular nucleus of the thalamus; sign-tracking

Supplemental Content

Full text links

Icon for Frontiers Media SA Icon for PubMed Central
Loading ...
Support Center