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Sign Tracking and Goal Tracking Are Characterized by Distinct Patterns of Nucleus Accumbens Activity

Gillis, Zachary S. and Morrison, Sara E. (2019) Sign Tracking and Goal Tracking Are Characterized by Distinct Patterns of Nucleus Accumbens Activity. eneuro, 6 (2). ENEURO.0414-18.2019. ISSN 2373-2822

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During Pavlovian conditioning, if a cue (e.g., lever extension) predicts reward delivery in a different location (e.g., a food magazine), some individuals will come to approach and interact with the cue, a behavior known as sign tracking (ST), and others will approach the site of reward, a behavior known as goal tracking (GT). In rats, the acquisition of ST versus GT behavior is associated with distinct profiles of dopamine release in the nucleus accumbens (NAc), but it is unknown whether it is associated with different patterns of accumbens neural activity. Therefore, we recorded from individual neurons in the NAc core during the acquisition, maintenance, and extinction of ST and GT behavior. Even though NAc dopamine is specifically important for the acquisition and expression of ST, we found that cue-evoked excitatory responses encode the vigor of both ST and GT behavior. In contrast, among sign trackers only, there was a prominent decrease in reward-related activity over the course of training, which may reflect the decreasing reward prediction error encoded by phasic dopamine. Finally, both behavior and cue-evoked activity were relatively resistant to extinction in sign trackers, as compared with goal trackers, although a subset of neurons in both groups retained their cue-evoked responses. Overall, the results point to the convergence of multiple forms of reward learning in the NAc.


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Item Type: Article
Status: Published
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Gillis, Zachary S.
Morrison, Sara
Date: 2019
Date Type: Publication
Journal or Publication Title: eneuro
Volume: 6
Number: 2
Page Range: ENEURO.0414-18.2019
DOI or Unique Handle: 10.1523/eneuro.0414-18.2019
Schools and Programs: Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences > Neuroscience
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: goal tracking; nucleus accumbens; Pavlovian conditioning; reinforcement learning; sign tracking
ISSN: 2373-2822
Official URL:
Article Type: Research Article
Date Deposited: 13 May 2020 15:25
Last Modified: 13 May 2020 15:25


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