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Prog Brain Res. 2014;211:31-77. doi: 10.1016/B978-0-444-63425-2.00003-9.

The role of learning-related dopamine signals in addiction vulnerability.

Author information

Translational Neuromodeling Unit, Department of Biomedical Engineering, ETH Zürich and University of Zürich, Zürich, Switzerland; Department of Psychiatry, Psychosomatics and Psychotherapy, Hospital of Psychiatry, University of Zürich, Zürich, Switzerland. Electronic address:
Department of Economics, Laboratory for Social and Neural Systems Research, University of Zürich, Zürich, Switzerland.
Department of Psychiatry, University of Bern, Bern, Switzerland.
Department of Psychiatry, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI, USA; Molecular and Behavioral Neuroscience Institute, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI, USA.


Dopaminergic signals play a mathematically precise role in reward-related learning, and variations in dopaminergic signaling have been implicated in vulnerability to addiction. Here, we provide a detailed overview of the relationship between theoretical, mathematical, and experimental accounts of phasic dopamine signaling, with implications for the role of learning-related dopamine signaling in addiction and related disorders. We describe the theoretical and behavioral characteristics of model-free learning based on errors in the prediction of reward, including step-by-step explanations of the underlying equations. We then use recent insights from an animal model that highlights individual variation in learning during a Pavlovian conditioning paradigm to describe overlapping aspects of incentive salience attribution and model-free learning. We argue that this provides a computationally coherent account of some features of addiction.


addiction; dopamine; incentive salience; model-free; prediction error; reinforcement learning; sign-tracking

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