Journal of Neurophysiology

Responses of monkey dopamine neurons during learning of behavioral reactions

T. Ljungberg, P. Apicella, W. Schultz

Abstract

1. Previous studies have shown that dopamine (DA) neurons respond to stimuli of behavioral significance, such as primary reward and conditioned stimuli predicting reward and eliciting behavioral reactions. The present study investigated how these responses develop and vary when the behavioral significance of stimuli changes during different stages of learning. Impulses from DA neurons were recorded with movable microelectrodes from areas A8, A9, and A10 in two awake monkeys during the successive acquisition of two behavioral tasks. Impulses of DA neurons were distinguished from other neurons by their long duration (1.8-5.0 ms) and low spontaneous frequency (0.5-7.0 imp/s). 2. In the first task, animals learned to reach in a small box in front of them when it opened visibly and audibly. Before conditioning, DA neurons were activated the first few times that the empty box opened and animals reacted with saccadic eye movements. Neuronal and behavioral responses disappeared on repeated stimulus presentation. Thus neuronal responses were related to the novelty of an unexpected stimulus eliciting orienting behavior. 3. Subsequently, the box contained a small morsel of apple in one out of six trials. Animals reacted with ocular saccades to nearly every box opening and reached out when the morsel was present. One-third of 49 neurons were phasically activated by every door opening. The response was stronger when food was present. Thus DA neurons responded simultaneously to the sight of primary food reward and to the conditioned stimulus associated with reward. 4. When the box contained a morsel of apple on every trial, animals regularly reacted with target-directed eye and arm movements, and the majority of 76 DA neurons responded to door opening. The same neurons lacked responses to a light not associated with task performance that was illuminated at the position of the food box in alternate sessions, thus demonstrating specificity for the behavioral significance of stimuli. 5. The second task employed the operant conditioning of a reaction time situation in which animals reached from a resting key toward a lever when a small light was illuminated. DA neurons lacked responses to the unconditioned light. During task acquisition lasting 2-3 days, one-half of 25 DA neurons were phasically activated when a drop of liquid reward was delivered for reinforcing the reaching movement. In contrast, neurons were not activated when reward was delivered at regular intervals (2.5-3.5 s) but a task was not performed.(ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 400 WORDS)