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Reward-Predictive Cues Enhance Excitatory Synaptic Strength onto Midbrain Dopamine Neurons

Science  19 Sep 2008:
Vol. 321, Issue 5896, pp. 1690-1692
DOI: 10.1126/science.1160873

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Abstract

Using sensory information for the prediction of future events is essential for survival. Midbrain dopamine neurons are activated by environmental cues that predict rewards, but the cellular mechanisms that underlie this phenomenon remain elusive. We used in vivo voltammetry and in vitro patch-clamp electrophysiology to show that both dopamine release to reward predictive cues and enhanced synaptic strength onto dopamine neurons develop over the course of cue-reward learning. Increased synaptic strength was not observed after stable behavioral responding. Thus, enhanced synaptic strength onto dopamine neurons may act to facilitate the transformation of neutral environmental stimuli to salient reward-predictive cues.

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