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Occasion setters determine responses of putative dopamine neurons to discriminative stimuli

Aquili, L., Bowman, E.M. and Schmidt, R. (2019) Occasion setters determine responses of putative dopamine neurons to discriminative stimuli. bioRxiv .

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Midbrain dopamine (DA) neurons are involved in the processing of rewards and reward-predicting stimuli, possibly analogous to reinforcement learning reward prediction errors. Here we studied the activity of putative DA neurons (n=41) recorded in the ventral tegmental area of rats (n=6) performing a behavioural task involving occasion setting. In this task an occasion setter (OS) indicated that the relationship between a discriminative stimulus (DS) and reinforcement is in effect, so that reinforcement of bar pressing occurred only after the OS (tone or houselight) was followed by the DS (houselight or tone). We found that responses of putative DA cells to the DS were enhanced when preceded by the OS, as were behavioural responses to obtain rewards. Surprisingly though, we did not find a population response of putative DA neurons to the OS, contrary to predictions of standard temporal-difference models of DA neurons. However, despite the absence of a population response, putative DA neurons exhibited a heterogeneous response on a single unit level, so that some units increased and others decreased their activity as a response to the OS. Similarly, putative non-DA cells did not respond to the DS on a population level, but with heterogeneous responses on a single unit level. The heterogeneity in the responses of putative DA cells may reflect how DA neurons encode context and point to local differences in DA signalling.

Item Type: Non-refereed Article
Publisher: Cold Spring Habor Laboratory
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