January 28, 2021

Phasic inhibition of dopamine neurons is an instrumental punisher

It is well established that the activity of VTA dopamine neurons is sufficient to serve as a Pavlovian reinforcer but whether this activity can also serve as instrumental reinforcer is less well understood. Here we studied the effects of optogenetic inhibition of VTA dopamine neurons in instrumental conditioning preparations. We show that optogenetic inhibition of VTA dopamine neurons causes a response-specific, contingency-sensitive suppression of instrumental responding. This suppression was due to instrumental response, not Pavlovian stimulus, learning and could not be attributed to deepened instrumental extinction learning. These effects of optogenetic inhibition of VTA dopamine neurons on instrumental responding are formally similar to the effects of aversive events in instrumental preparations and show that optogenetic inhibition of VTA dopamine neurons is sufficient to serve as an instrumental punisher.

 bioRxiv Subject Collection: Neuroscience

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