Original Investigations


, Volume 114, Issue 2, pp 345-359

First online:

Mesoaccumbens dopamine-opiate interactions in the control over behaviour by a conditioned reinforcer

  • Gavin D. PhillipsAffiliated withDepartment of Anatomy, University of Cambridge
  • , Trevor W. RobbinsAffiliated withDepartment of Experimental Psychology, University of Cambridge
  • , Barry J. EverittAffiliated withDepartment of Anatomy, University of Cambridge

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These experiments examined the role of dopamine-opiate interactions in the ventral tegmental area (VTA) and nucleus accumbens in the mediation of reinforcement-related behaviour. It has been shown previously that opiates induce a dopamine-dependent increase in locomotor activity in rats when infused into the VTA, and a dopamine-independent hyperactivity when infused into the nucleus accumbens. The present study investigated the generality and significance of these two findings, by examining dopamine-opiate interactions in the control over behaviour exerted by a conditioned reinforcer (CR), an arbitrary stimulus which gains control by association with primary reinforcement. Rats were trained to associate a light/noise stimulus with sucrose reinforcement, and the efficacy of the CR in controlling behaviour was assessed by measuring its ability to support a new lever pressing response. Responding on one lever (CR lever) produced the CR, responding on the other lever had no programmed consequences. In experiment 1, intra-accumbens infusions ofd-amphetamine (10 µg), the D1 dopamine receptor agonist SKF-38393 (0.1 µg), the D2 dopamine receptor agonist LY-171555 (quinpirole; 0.1 µg) or the opiate receptor agonist [d-Ala2]-methionine enkephalinamide (DALA; 1 µg) selectively increased responding on the CR lever. Infusion with DALA intra-VTA had no effect. However, pretreatment with DALA intra-VTA (10 × 1 µg/day) subsequently reduced the selectivity of the response to infusions intra-accumbens withd-amphetamine or SKF-38393, and blocked the response to LY-171555 or DALA. Pretreatment also shifted to the right the dose-response function for DALA intra-accumbens. In experiment 2, intra-accumbens infusions ofd-amphetamine, SKF-38393, LY-171555 or DALA again increased responding on the CR lever only. Pretreatment with intra-accumbensd-amphetamine (5 × 1 µg/day) reduced the selectivity of the response subsequently tod-amphetamine, and blocked the response to SKF-38393, LY-171555 or DALA. In experiment 3, intra-accumbens infusions of the μ-opiate receptor agonist [d-Ala2,N-Me-Phe4,Gly5-ol]-enkephalin (0.003–0.1 µg), or the δ-opiate receptor agonist [d-Pen2, 5]-enkephalin (0.03–1 µg) enhanced selectively responding on the CR lever. Thus, the dopamine-dependent locomotor-stimulant properties of intra-VTA infusions of opiates are associated with impaired conditioned reinforcer efficacy. Finally, repeated stimulation of the mesoaccumbens dopamine pathway may compromise the dopamine-independence of the opiate system within the nucleus accumbens.

Key words

Dopamine Opiate Ventral tegmental area Nucleus accumbens Conditioned reinforcement, reward