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Temporally restricted dopaminergic control of reward-conditioned movements

Abstract

Midbrain dopamine (DA) neurons encode both reward- and movement-related events and are implicated in disorders of reward processing as well as movement. Consequently, disentangling the contribution of DA neurons in reinforcing versus generating movements is challenging and has led to lasting controversy. In this study, we dissociated these functions by parametrically varying the timing of optogenetic manipulations in a Pavlovian conditioning task and examining the influence on anticipatory licking before reward delivery. Inhibiting both ventral tegmental area and substantia nigra pars compacta DA neurons in the post-reward period had a significantly greater behavioral effect than inhibition in the pre-reward period of the task. Furthermore, the contribution of DA neurons to behavior decreased linearly as a function of elapsed time after reward. Together, the results indicate a temporally restricted role of DA neurons primarily related to reinforcing stimulus–reward associations and suggest that directly generating movements is a comparatively less important function.

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Fig. 1: Pre- and post-reward DA signals differentially control conditioned movements.
Fig. 2: Similar optogenetic reduction of DA neuron activity in the pre- and post-reward periods.
Fig. 3: Fiber photometry measurements of VTA DA neuron activity.
Fig. 4: Prolonged DA neuron inhibition does not compound behavioral effects.
Fig. 5: Post-reward DA signals control temporally specific cue–reward associations.
Fig. 6: Post-reward DA signals are sufficient to maintain conditioned responding during extinction.
Fig. 7: Temporal dissection of the post-reward DA signal.

Data availability

The data that support the findings of this study are available from the corresponding author upon reasonable request. Source data for Figs. 1–7 and Extended Data Figs. 1–10 are presented with the paper.

Code availability

Custom MATLAB code for analysis of behavior and neural activity is available from the corresponding author upon reasonable request.

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Acknowledgements

We thank C.D. Fiorillo for valuable discussions, T.J. Davidson for technical assistance with photometry and the investigators who shared resources, including viruses for optogenetics and calcium imaging, as well as DAT-Cre mice. S.C.M. was supported by National Institutes of Health grants NS100050, NS096994, DA042739 and DA005010 and National Science Foundation NeuroNex Award 1707408.

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Contributions

K.L. and L.D.C. designed and carried out experiments, analyzed data and wrote the manuscript. K.I.B., A.H., J.N., J.M.T. and J.L.G. carried out experiments and analyzed data. S.C.M. conceived the project, designed experiments, analyzed data and wrote the manuscript.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Sotiris C. Masmanidis.

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Competing interests

The authors declare no competing interests.

Additional information

Peer review information Nature Neuroscience thanks Naoshige Uchida and the other, anonymous, reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

Publisher’s note Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Extended data

Extended Data Fig. 1 Optogenetic inhibition of spontaneous activity in the VTA, in the absence of behavior.

(a) (Top) Illustration of recording with a 64 electrode silicon microprobe during optogenetic inhibition of VTA DA neurons. (Bottom) Silicon microprobe with attached optical fiber under bright field and laser illumination. Scale bars: 0.2 mm. (b) Spike raster (top) and mean firing rate versus time (bottom) of two VTA neurons in response to optogenetic inhibition. Orange bar indicates the duration of the laser stimulus. Insets show the spike waveform of each unit in blue (scale bar: 1 ms). Note the rebound excitation effect by the left unit. (c) Firing rate modulation index distribution of 142 VTA neurons from 4 mice in response to optogenetic inhibition. The mean value was significantly less than zero (two-sided paired t-test, t141 = –5.6, P < 0.0001). Data are expressed as mean ± SEM.

Source data

Extended Data Fig. 2 Effect of post-reward VTA DA neuron inhibition on anticipatory licking.

(a) (Left) Trial structure of Pavlovian conditioning task with post-reward VTA DA inhibition. (Right) Mean lick rate versus time for NpHR3.0 (n = 18) and YFP (n = 14) expressing animals undergoing post-reward inhibition. Black and green lines represent block 1 (trials 1 – 40, laser off) and block 2 (trials 41 – 80, laser on), respectively. (b) (Left) During post-reward inhibition, anticipatory lick number was significantly reduced in the laser block compared to controls (n = 18 eNpHR3.0+ and 14 YFP+ mice, two-way RM ANOVA, group effect: F1,30 = 2.4, P = 0.13, trial block effect: F2,60 = 24.8, P < 0.0001). Post-hoc Sidak’s test: **P = 0.003. (Right) Anticipatory lick onset time was not significantly altered in the laser block relative to controls (two-way RM ANOVA, group effect: F1,30 = 0.0001, P = 0.99, trial block effect: F2,60 = 9.2, P = 0.0003). (c) Mean number of anticipatory licks per animal (n = 18 eNpHR3.0+ and 14 YFP+ mice) as a function of trial number, for post-reward laser stimulation. Data are normalized to the mean lick count in the first trial block corresponding to laser off. Data are aligned to the start of the third trial block. Data are expressed as mean ± SEM.

Source data

Extended Data Fig. 3 Reward size reduction resembles post-reward DA neuron inhibition.

(a) (Top) Schematic illustration the test using reduced reward size. The reward was reduced from 5 µL in block 1 to 2 or 3 µL in block 2, then reinstated to 5 µL in block 3. (Middle and bottom) Mean lick rate versus time for a reduced reward of 2 and 3 µL (n = 7 mice). Black and green lines represent trial blocks 1 and 2, respectively. (b) Anticipatory lick probability in each of the three trial blocks for the two reduced reward conditions (n = 7 mice, two-way RM ANOVA, reward size effect: F1,6 = 34.2, P = 0.001, trial block effect: F2,12 = 27, P < 0.0001. Post-hoc Sidak’s test: ****P < 0.0001. (c) Mean normalized number of anticipatory licks per animal as a function of trial number for the two reduced reward size conditions. Left plot shows data aligned to the start of block 2, and right plot shows data aligned to the start of block 3. (d) Fractional change in anticipatory licking probability as a function of reward size in block 2 (n = 7 mice, one-way RM ANOVA, F = 37.6, P < 0.0001). Post-hoc Tukey’s test: 2 vs 3 µL P = 0.002, 2 vs 5 µL P = 0.0004, 3 vs 5 µL P = 0.09. Data are expressed as mean ± SEM.

Source data

Extended Data Fig. 4 Comparison of pre and post-reward VTA DA neuron inhibition on behavior.

(a) (Left) Trial structure of Pavlovian conditioning task with pre-reward VTA DA inhibition. (Right) Mean lick rate versus time for NpHR3.0 (n = 18) and YFP (n = 14) expressing animals undergoing pre-reward inhibition. Black and green lines represent trial blocks 1 and 2, respectively. (b) (Left) Anticipatory lick number in each of the three trial blocks during pre-reward inhibition (n = 18 eNpHR3.0+ and 14 YFP+ mice, two-way RM ANOVA, group effect: F1,30 = 0.005, P = 0.94, trial block effect: F2,60 = 23.3, P < 0.0001). (Right) Anticipatory lick onset time in each of the three trial blocks during pre-reward inhibition (two-way RM ANOVA, group effect: F1,30 = 0.1, P = 0.73, trial block effect: F2,60 = 30.1, P < 0.0001). (c) Mean normalized number of anticipatory licks per animal as a function of trial number during pre-reward VTA DA inhibition (n = 7 mice). Left plot shows data aligned to the start of block 2, and right plot shows data aligned to the start of block 3. (d) The fractional change in anticipatory lick number was significantly more reduced by post-reward VTA DA inhibition (n = 18 eNpHR3.0+ mice, two-sided paired t-test, t17 = 5.6, ****P < 0.0001). (e) Control experiments with YFP expression. (Left) Fractional change in anticipatory lick probability caused by pre- and post-reward inhibition (n = 14 YFP+ mice, two-sided paired t-test, t13 = 0.9, P = 0.37). (Right) Fractional change in anticipatory lick number caused by pre- and post-reward inhibition (two-sided paired t-test, t13 = 1.9, P = 0.074). Data are expressed as mean ± SEM.

Source data

Extended Data Fig. 5 Effect of SNc DA neuron inhibition with random laser trial schedule.

(a) (Top) Trial structure of a Pavlovian reward conditioning task, in which pre-reward laser stimulation was given to SNc DA neurons on random trials (50 %) rather than in a continuous block of trials as with other experiments in this study. (Bottom left) The probability of generating anticipatory licks was significantly reduced on trials with laser compared to laser off trials (n = 9 eNpHR3.0+ mice, two-sided paired t-test, t8 = 4.7, **P = 0.002). (Bottom right) The mean anticipatory lick onset time was increased on trials with laser (n = 9 eNpHR3.0+ mice, two-sided paired t-test, t8 = 2.3, #P = 0.051). (b) Comparison of random trial versus continuous 40 trial block SNc DA neuron inhibition in the pre-reward period. (Left) Anticipatory lick probability (n = 9 eNpHR3.0+ mice, two-sided paired t-test, t8 = 0.7, P = 0.52). (Right) Anticipatory lick number (n = 9 eNpHR3.0+ mice, two-sided paired t-test, t8 = 0.5, P = 0.64). Data are expressed as mean ± SEM.

Source data

Extended Data Fig. 6 Comparison of pre and post-reward SNc DA neuron inhibition on behavior.

(a) (Top) Lick raster of a mouse during post-reward SNc DA inhibition. (Bottom) Lick raster of the same mouse during pre-reward SNc DA inhibition. Orange shaded area indicates timing of the laser stimulus given on trials 41 – 80. (b) Mean lick rate versus time on sessions with post-reward (top) and pre-reward (bottom) SNc DA neuron inhibition (n = 9 eNpHR3.0+ mice). Black and green lines represent trial blocks 1 and 2, respectively. (c) Mean normalized number of anticipatory licks per animal as a function of trial number during pre-reward (blue) and post-reward (red) SNc DA inhibition (n = 9 eNpHR3.0+ mice). Left plot shows data aligned to the start of block 2, and right plot shows data aligned to the start of block 3. (d) The fractional change in anticipatory lick number was significantly more reduced by post-reward SNc DA inhibition (n = 9 eNpHR3.0+ mice, two-sided paired t-test, t8 = 2.6, *P = 0.03). Data are expressed as mean ± SEM.

Source data

Extended Data Fig. 7 Optogenetic inhibition of M2 excitatory neurons and behavioral effects.

(a) Spike raster (top) and mean spontaneous firing rate versus time (bottom) of an M2 neuron in response to optogenetic inhibition, in the absence of behavior. Orange bar indicates the duration of the laser stimulus. Inset shows the corresponding spike waveform in blue (scale bar: 1 ms). (b) Firing rate modulation index distribution of 232 M2 neurons from 3 mice in response to optogenetic inhibition. The mean value was significantly less than zero (two-sided paired t-test, t231 = –19.8, P < 0.0001). (c) Mean firing rate versus time of all M2 units during optogenetic inhibition (n = 232). (d) Histologically determined optical fiber tracks for the 9 eNpHR3.0+ mice targeting M2 for behavioral experiments in Fig. 1. Grid lines are spaced 1 mm apart. (e) Mean normalized number of anticipatory licks per animal as a function of trial number during pre-reward (blue) and post-reward (red) M2 inhibition (n = 9 eNpHR3.0+ mice). Left plot shows data aligned to the start of block 2, and right plot shows data aligned to the start of block 3. (f) Mean lick rate versus time on sessions with post-reward (top) and pre-reward (bottom) M2 neuron inhibition (n = 9 eNpHR3.0+ mice). Black and green lines represent trial blocks 1 and 2, respectively. (g) (Top) Trial structure of the Pavlovian reward conditioning task with pre-reward inhibition in M2. Orange bar indicates the timing of the laser. (Bottom) Inhibiting M2 excitatory neurons in the pre-reward period significantly reduced the anticipatory lick probability relative to controls (n = 9 eNpHR3.0+ and 9 YFP+ mice, two-way RM ANOVA, group effect: F1,16 = 1.6, P = 0.23, trial block effect: F2,32 = 4, P = 0.03). Post-hoc Sidak’s test: **P = 0.009. (h) The fractional change in anticipatory lick number was significantly more reduced by pre-reward M2 inhibition (n = 9 eNpHR3.0+ mice, two-sided paired t-test, t8 = 9.9, ****P < 0.0001). Data are expressed as mean ± SEM.

Source data

Extended Data Fig. 8 Electrophysiological recordings during optogenetic DA neuron inhibition in behaving mice.

(a) auROC time series plots of 140 cells recorded from 5 mice, after hierarchical clustering yielded three types of clusters. There were 85 type I cells (putative DA neurons), 36 Type II cells, and 19 Type III cells. (b) First three principal components of each cell’s auROC, color-coded by cluster type. (c) Mean firing rate versus time of one Type II cluster cell on laser-free trials (n = 28 trials). (d) Mean firing rate versus time of one Type III cluster cell on laser-free trials (n = 28 trials). (e) Mean baseline firing rate of cells in each type of cluster (n = 85 Type I, 36 Type II, 19 Type III, one-way ANOVA, F2,137 = 6.2, P = 0.003). Post-hoc Tukey’s test: Type I vs II P = 0.02, Type I vs III P = 0.02, Type II vs III P = 0.89. (f) (Left) The mean firing rate of Type II cells in the post-reward period was not significantly reduced by application of post-reward laser (n = 36 cells, two-sided paired t-test, t35 = 1.6, P = 0.12). (Right) The mean firing rate of Type II cells in the pre-reward period was not significantly reduced by application of pre-reward laser (n = 36 cells, two-sided paired t-test, t35 = 0.7, P = 0.52). (g) (Left) The mean firing rate of Type III cells in the post-reward period was not significantly reduced by application of post-reward laser (n = 19 cells, two-sided paired t-test, t18 = 0.4, P = 0.68). (Right) The mean firing rate of Type III cells in the pre-reward period was not significantly reduced by application of pre-reward laser (n = 19 cells, two-sided paired t-test, t18 = 1.4, P = 0.17). (h) Cumulative distribution of the fractional change in pre- and post-reward firing caused by the laser, for Type I cluster cells. Data are expressed as mean ± SEM.

Source data

Extended Data Fig. 9 Behavioral effect of VTA DA neuron activation during reward extinction.

(a) (Top) Trial structure of a Pavlovian reward conditioning task with extinction, in which the physical reward (milk) reward was omitted and substituted for VTA DA neuron activation during the post-reward period (2 s continuous laser duration on trials 41 – 80). Reward was given on all other trials. (Bottom) Histologically determined optical fiber tracks for the 10 Chrimson+ mice targeting the VTA for behavioral experiments in Fig. 6. Grid lines are spaced 1 mm apart. (b) Mean lick rate versus time for YFP (n = 8, top) and Chrimson (n = 10, bottom) expressing animals undergoing reward extinction with 2 s continuous laser stimulation. Black and green lines represent trial blocks 1 and 2, respectively. (c) (Left) Activating VTA DA neurons during extinction maintains a higher number of anticipatory licks in the laser block compared to controls (n = 10 Chrimson+ and 8 YFP+ mice, two-way RM ANOVA, group effect: F1,16 = 0.1, P = 0.79, trial block effect: F2,32 = 18.3, P < 0.0001). Post-hoc Sidak’s test: *P = 0.036. (Right) Activating VTA DA neurons during extinction does not have a significant effect on anticipatory lick onset time compared to controls (two-way RM ANOVA, group effect: F1,16 = 0.4, P = 0.52, trial block effect: F2,32 = 6.5, P = 0.004). Data are expressed as mean ± SEM.

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Extended Data Fig. 10 Similar effect of pulsed and continuous laser stimulation during reward extinction.

(a) (Top) Illustration of the pulsed laser stimulation (as opposed to 2 s continuous used in Fig. 6) protocol used to activate DA neurons during reward extinction. (Bottom) Histologically determined optical fiber tracks for the 4 Chrimson+ mice targeting the VTA. Grid lines are spaced 1 mm apart. (b) Anticipatory lick probability in each of the three trial blocks on extinction sessions with laser (blue) and without laser (black) (n = 4 Chrimson+ mice, two-way RM ANOVA, group effect: F1,3 = 30.2, P = 0.01, trial block effect: F2,6 = 40.9, P = 0.0003. Post-hoc Sidak’s test: ****P < 0.0001. (c) Mean lick rate versus time for Chrimson expressing animals undergoing reward extinction on extinction sessions without laser (top) and with pulsed laser stimulation (bottom) (n = 4 mice). Black and green lines represent trial blocks 1 and 2, respectively. (d) Fractional change in anticipatory lick probability during reward extinction experiments with 2 s continuous (n = 10 mice) and 20 Hz pulsed laser (n = 4 mice). There is no significant difference between these groups (two-sided unpaired t-test, t12 = 0.1, P = 0.91). Data are expressed as mean ± SEM.

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Lee, K., Claar, L.D., Hachisuka, A. et al. Temporally restricted dopaminergic control of reward-conditioned movements. Nat Neurosci 23, 209–216 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41593-019-0567-0

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