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Nucleus accumbens dopamine tracks aversive stimulus duration and prediction but not value or prediction error

Research group Willuhn
Publication year 2022
Published in eLife
Authors Jessica N Goedhoop, Bastijn J G van den Boom, Rhiannon Robke, Felice Veen, Lizz Fellinger, Wouter van Elzelingen, Tara Arbab, Ingo Willuhn

There is active debate on the role of dopamine in processing aversive stimuli, where inferred roles range from no involvement at all, to signaling an aversive prediction error (APE). Here, we systematically investigate dopamine release in the nucleus accumbens core (NAC), which is closely linked to reward prediction errors, in rats exposed to white noise (WN, a versatile, underutilized, aversive stimulus) and its predictive cues. Both induced a negative dopamine ramp, followed by slow signal recovery upon stimulus cessation. In contrast to reward conditioning, this dopamine signal was unaffected by WN value, context valence, or probabilistic contingencies, and the WN dopamine response shifted only partially toward its predictive cue. However, unpredicted WN provoked slower post-stimulus signal recovery than predicted WN. Despite differing signal qualities, dopamine responses to simultaneous presentation of rewarding and aversive stimuli were additive. Together, our findings demonstrate that instead of an APE, NAC dopamine primarily tracks prediction and duration of aversive events.

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