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Striatal dopamine signals are region specific and temporally stable across action-sequence habit formation

Research group Willuhn
Publication year 2022
Published in Current Biology
Authors Wouter van Elzelingen, Pascal Warnaar, João Matos, Wieneke Bastet, Roos Jonkman, Dyonne Smulders, Jessica Goedhoop, D. Denys, Tara Arbab, Ingo Willuhn

Habits are automatic, inflexible behaviors that develop slowly with repeated performance. Striatal dopamine signaling instantiates this habit-formation process, presumably region specifically and via ventral-to-dorsal and medial-to-lateral signal shifts. Here, we quantify dopamine release in regions implicated in these presumed shifts (ventromedial striatum [VMS], dorsomedial striatum [DMS], and dorsolateral striatum [DLS]) in rats performing an action-sequence task and characterize habit development throughout a 10-week training. Surprisingly, all regions exhibited stable dopamine dynamics throughout habit development. VMS and DLS signals did not differ between habitual and non-habitual animals, but DMS dopamine release increased during action-sequence initiation and decreased during action-sequence completion in habitual rats, whereas non-habitual rats showed opposite effects. Consistently, optogenetic stimulation of DMS dopamine release accelerated habit formation. Thus, we demonstrate that dopamine signals do not shift regionally during habit formation and that dopamine in DMS, but not VMS or DLS, determines habit bias, attributing “habit functions” to a region previously associated exclusively with non-habitual behavior.

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