, Volume 191, Issue 3, pp 439–459

Discrete neurochemical coding of distinguishable motivational processes: insights from nucleus accumbens control of feeding



Background and objectives

The idea that nucleus accumbens (Acb) dopamine transmission contributes to the neural mediation of reward, at least in a general sense, has achieved wide acceptance. Nevertheless, debate remains over the precise nature of dopamine’s role in reward and even over the nature of reward itself. In the present article, evidence is reviewed from studies of food intake, feeding microstructure, instrumental responding for food reinforcement, and dopamine efflux associated with feeding, which suggests that reward processing in the Acb is best understood as an interaction among distinct processes coded by discrete neurotransmitter systems.


In agreement with several theories of Acb dopamine function, it is proposed here that allocation of motor effort in seeking food or food-associated conditioned stimuli can be dissociated from computations relevant to the hedonic evaluation of food during the consummatory act. The former appears to depend upon Acb dopamine transmission and the latter upon striatal opioid peptide release. Moreover, dopamine transmission may play a role in ‘stamping in’ associations between motor acts and goal attainment and perhaps also neural representations corresponding to rewarding outcomes. Finally, evidence is reviewed that amino acid transmission specifically in the Acb shell acts as a central ‘circuit breaker’ to flexibly enable or terminate the consummatory act, via descending connections to hypothalamic feeding control systems.


The heuristic framework outlined above may help explain why dopamine-compromising manipulations that strongly diminish instrumental goal-seeking behaviors leave consummatory activity relatively unaffected.


Appetite Reward Opioid Motivation Glutamate GABA Food intake Dopamine Basal ganglia Arousal 


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© Springer-Verlag 2007

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychiatryUniversity of Wisconsin—Madison School of Medicine and Public HealthMadisonUSA

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