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Regionally distinct phasic dopamine release patterns in the striatum during reversal learning

Research group Willuhn
Publication year 2017
Published in Neuroscience
Authors Marianne Klanker, Lisanne Fellinger, M.G.P. Feenstra, Ingo Willuhn, D. Denys

Striatal dopamine (DA) plays a central role in reward-related learning and behavioral adaptation to changing environments. Recent studies suggest that rather than being broadcast as a uniform signal throughout the entire region, DA release dynamics diverge between different striatal regions. In a previous study, we showed that phasic DA release patterns in the ventromedial striatum (VMS) rapidly adapt during reversal learning. However, it is unknown how DA dynamics in the dorsolateral striatum (DLS) are modulated during such adaptive behavior. Here, we used fast-scan cyclic voltammetry to measure phasic DA release in the DLS during spatial reversal learning. In the DLS, we observed minor DA release after the onset of a visual cue signaling reward availability, followed by more pronounced DA release during more proximal reward cues (e.g., lever extension) and execution of the operant response (i.e., lever press), both in rewarded and non-rewarded trials. These release dynamics (minor DA after onset of the predictive visual cue, prominent DA during the operant response) did not change significantly during or following a reversal of response-reward contingencies. Notably, the DA increase to the lever press did not reflect a general signal related to the initiation of any motivated motor response, as we did not observe DA release when rats initiated nose pokes into the food receptacle during inter-trial intervals. This suggests that DA release in the DLS occurs selectively during the initiation and execution of a learned operant response. Together with our previous results obtained in the VMS, these findings reveal distinct phasic DA release patterns during adaptation of established behavior in DLS and VMS. The VMS DA signal, which is highly sensitive to reversal of response-reward contingences, may provide a teaching signal to guide reward-related learning and facilitate behavioral adaptation, whereas DLS DA may reflect a ‘response execution signal’ largely independent of outcome, that may be involved in initiation and energizing of operant behavior.

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