Dopamine has been suggested to encode cue-reward prediction errors during Pavlovian conditioning. While this theory has been widely applied to reinforcement learning concerning instrumental actions, whether dopamine represents action-outcome prediction errors and how it controls sequential behavior remain largely unknown. Here, by training mice to perform optogenetic intracranial self-stimulation, we examined how self-initiated goal-directed behavior influences nigrostriatal dopamine transmission during single as well as sequential instrumental actions. We found that dopamine release evoked by direct optogenetic stimulation was dramatically reduced when delivered as the consequence of the animal’s own action, relative to non-contingent passive stimulation. This action-induced dopamine suppression was specific to the reinforced action, temporally restricted to counteract the expected outcome, and exhibited sequence-selectivity consistent with hierarchical control of sequential behavior. Together these findings demonstrate that nigrostriatal dopamine signals sequence-specific prediction errors in action-outcome associations, with fundamental implications for reinforcement learning and instrumental behavior in health and disease.
bioRxiv Subject Collection: Neuroscience