Responses of Monkey Dopamine Neurons to External Stimuli: Changes with Learning

  • Tomas Ljungberg
  • Paul Apicella
  • Wolfram Schultz
Part of the Advances in Behavioral Biology book series (ABBI, volume 39)


Previous studies have shown that dopamine (DA) neurons respond with a phasic activation to external stimuli triggering a behavioral reaction. In this study, we investigated responses of DA neurons to stimuli before, during and after they acquired a behavioral significance. Dopamine neurons with typical electrophysiological characteristics were recorded in midbrain areas A9, A8 and A10 in two Macaca fascicularis monkeys. Before behavioral reactions were demanded, the opening of a small door of a food box or the illumination of a small light did typically not activate DA neurons (N=173). In a second phase, a small morsel of food was presented behind the opening door, and the monkeys reached out for it. Most of 76 DA neurons thereafter recorded responded with a short burst of impulses to door opening, but lacked responses to the light. In a third phase, the light was used to trigger a similar reaching arm movement towards a lever for obtaining liquid reward. After acquisition of this task, most of 64 DA neurons responded to the light in a similar way as to door opening. During the transitory phase of task acquisition, an increased proportion of DA neurons were phasically activated by the liquid reward. This response largely disappeared when the behavioral reaction was fully established. Thus, the responses of DA neurons are related to the acquired significance of environmental stimuli in a behavioral context.


Conditioned Stimulus Dopamine Neuron Neuronal Response Light Illumination Behavioral Reaction 
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Copyright information

© Plenum Press, New York 1991

Authors and Affiliations

  • Tomas Ljungberg
    • 1
  • Paul Apicella
    • 1
  • Wolfram Schultz
    • 1
  1. 1.Institut de Physiologie Université de FribourgFribourgSwitzerland

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