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Curr Opin Neurobiol. 2017 Apr;43:139-148. doi: 10.1016/j.conb.2017.03.013. Epub 2017 Apr 6.

The phasic dopamine signal maturing: from reward via behavioural activation to formal economic utility.

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Department of Physiology, Development and Neuroscience, University of Cambridge, Cambridge CB2 3DY, UK. Electronic address:
Department of Neurobiology, Systems Neuroscience Institute, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, PA 15261, USA.
Institute of Ophthalmology, University College London, 11-43 Bath Street, London EC1 V9EL, UK.


The phasic dopamine reward prediction error response is a major brain signal underlying learning, approach and decision making. This dopamine response consists of two components that reflect, initially, stimulus detection from physical impact and, subsequenttly, reward valuation; dopamine activations by punishers reflect physical impact rather than aversiveness. The dopamine reward signal is distinct from earlier reported and recently confirmed phasic changes with behavioural activation. Optogenetic activation of dopamine neurones in monkeys causes value learning and biases economic choices. The dopamine reward signal conforms to formal economic utility and thus constitutes a utility prediction error signal. In these combined ways, the dopamine reward prediction error signal constitutes a potential neuronal substrate for the crucial economic decision variable of utility.

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