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Sarno, Stefania; Beiran, Manuel; Falco-Roget, Joan; Diaz-deLeon, Gabriel; Rossi-Pool, Roman; Romo, Ranulfo; Parga, Nestor (2022)

DOPAMINE FIRING PLAYS A DUAL ROLE IN CODING REWARD PREDICTION ERRORS AND SIGNALING MOTIVATION IN A WORKING MEMORY TASK

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 119(2):
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Little is known about how dopamine (DA) neuron firing rates behave in cognitively demanding decision-making tasks. Here, we investigated midbrain DA activity in monkeys performing a discrimination task in which the animal had to use working memory (WM) to report which of two sequentially applied vibrotactile stimuli had the higher frequency. We found that perception was altered by an internal bias, likely generated by deterioration of the representation of the first frequency during the WM period. This bias greatly controlled the DA phasic response during the two stimulation periods, confirming that DA reward prediction errors reflected stimulus perception. In contrast, tonic dopamine activity during WM was not affected by the bias and did not encode the stored frequency. More interestingly, both delay-period activity and phasic responses before the second stimulus negatively correlated with reaction times of the animals after the trial start cue and thus represented motivated behavior on a trial-by-trial basis. During WM, this motivation signal underwent a ramp-like increase. At the same time, motivation positively correlated with accuracy, especially in difficult trials, probably by decreasing the effect of the bias. Overall, our results indicate that DA activity, in addition to encoding reward prediction errors, could at the same time be involved in motivation and WM. In particular, the ramping activity during the delay period suggests a possible DA role in stabilizing sustained cortical activity, hypothetically by increasing the gain communicated to prefrontal neurons in a motivation-dependent way.