Neural signals in the monkey ventral striatum related to motivation for juice and cocaine rewards

Eric Macdonald Bowman, TG Aigner, BJ Richmond

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

210 Citations (Scopus)


1. The results of neuropsychological, neuropharmacological, and neurophysiological experiments have implicated the ventral striatum in reward-related processes. We designed a task to allow us to separate the effects of sensory, motor, and internal signals so that we could study the correlation between the activity of neurons in the ventral striatum and different motivational states. In this task, a visual stimulus was used to cue the monkeys as to their progress toward earning a reward. The monkeys performed more quickly and with fewer mistakes in the rewarded trials. After analyzing the behavioral results from three monkeys, we recorded from 143 neurons from two of the monkeys while they performed the task with either juice or cocaine reward.

2. In this task the monkey was required to release its grip on a bar when a small visual response cue changed colors from red (the wait signal) to green (the go signal). The duration of the wait signal was varied randomly. The cue became blue whenever the monkey successfully responded to the go signal within 1 s of its appearance. A reward was delivered after the monkey successfully completed one, two, or three trials. The schedules were randomly interleaved. A second visual stimulus that progressively brightened or dimmed signaled to the monkeys their progress toward earning a reward. This discriminative cue allowed the monkeys to judge the proportion of work remaining in the current ratio schedule of reinforcement. Data were collected from three monkeys while they performed this task.

3. The average reaction times became faster and error rates declined as the monkeys progressed toward completing the current schedule of reinforcement and thereby earning a reward, whereas the modal reaction time did not change. As the duration of the wait period before the go signal increased, the monkeys reacted more quickly but their error rates scarcely changed. From these results we infer that the effects of motivation and motor readiness in this task are generated by separate mechanisms rather than by a single mechanism subserving generalized arousal.

4. The activity of 138 ventral striatal neurons was sampled in two monkeys while they performed the task to earn juice reward. We saw tonic changes in activity throughout the trials, and we saw phasic activity following the reward. The activity of these neurons was markedly different during juice-rewarded trials than during correctly performed trials when no reward was forthcoming (or expected). The responses also were weakly, but significantly, related to the proximity of the reward in the schedules requiring more than one trial.

5. The monkeys worked to obtain intravenous cocaine while we recorded 62 neurons. For 57 of the neurons, we recorded activity while the monkeys worked in blocks of trials during which they self-administered cocaine after blocks during which they worked for juice. Although fewer neurons responded to cocaine than to juice reward (19 vs. 33%), this difference was not significant. The neuronal response properties to cocaine and juice rewards were independent; that is, the responses when one was the reward one failed to predict the response when the other was the reward. In addition, the neuronal activity lost most of its selectivity for rewarded trials, i.e, the activity did not distinguish nearly as well between cocaine and sham rewards as between juice and sham rewards.

6. Our results show that mechanisms by which cocaine acts do not appear to be the same as the ones activated when the monkeys were presented with an oral juice reward. This finding raises the intriguing possibility that the effects of cocaine could be reduced selectively without blocking the effects of many natural rewards.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1061-1073
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Neurophysiology
Publication statusPublished - Mar 1996




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