Experience-dependent plasticity of dopaminergic neurons facilitates reward-specific signalling

Year of award: 2022


  • Dr Annie Park

    University of Oxford, United Kingdom

Project summary

Animals can form predictive associations of environmental cues with the availability of rewards such as food or sex, which aids future resource procurement. Across phyla dopaminergic neurons are central to coding of predictive associations. However, it is poorly understood how dopaminergic neurons encode cue and the reward information and how they distinguish between different types of reward and deprivation states. For instance, animals that are hungry are more likely to seek food associated cues while ignoring sex associated cues, but it is unclear how neural mechanisms permit these adjudications. It is therefore essential to determine how satiation states influence the robustness of reward signals. Anatomy and transcriptomics have established that dopaminergic neurons are heterogeneous which raises the possibility that distinct dopaminergic neuron subtypes provide reward-specific roles in these motivational processes. This proposal aims to understand neuronal mechanisms that allow satiation state to gate behavioural approach of a reward associated cue, at the level of single dopaminergic neurons using behavioural neurogenetics and in-vivo electrophysiology. The results will have relevance across phyla for understanding how the brain encodes reward. These findings will also inform how dysregulated reward-seeking can give rise to disease states such as addiction and depression.