The structural basis for mapping behavior onto the ventral striatum and its subdivisions
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The striatum can be divided into dorsal (caudate-putamen) and ventral parts. In the ventral division, the nucleus accumbens, which subserves adaptive and goal-directed behaviors, is further subdivided into shell and core. Accumbal neurons show different types of experience-dependent plasticity: those in the core seem to discriminate the motivational value of conditioned stimuli, features that rely on the integration of information and enhanced synaptic plasticity at the many spines on these cells, whereas shell neurons seem to be involved with the release of predetermined behavior patterns in relation to unconditioned stimuli, and the behavioral consequences of repeated administration of addictive drugs. In the core, the principal neurons are medium sized and densely spiny, but in the medial shell, these same neurons are much smaller and their dendrites, significantly less spiny, suggesting that morphological differences could mediate unique neuroadaptations associated with each region. This review is focused on evaluating the structural differences in nucleus accumbens core and shell neurons and discusses how such different morphologies could underlie distinguishable behavioral processes.