Desire and dread from the nucleus accumbens: Cortical glutamate and subcortical GABA differentially generate motivation and hedonic impact in the rat

Alexis Faure, Jocelyn M. Richard, Kent C. Berridge

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

84 Scopus citations


Background: GABAergic signals to the nucleus accumbens (NAc) shell arise from predominantly subcortical sources whereas glutamatergic signals arise mainly from cortical-related sources. Here we contrasted GABAergic and glutamatergic generation of hedonics versus motivation processes, as a proxy for comparing subcortical and cortical controls of emotion. Local disruptions of either signals in medial shell of NAc generate intense motivated behaviors corresponding to desire and/or dread, along a rostrocaudal gradient. GABA or glutamate disruptions in rostral shell generate appetitive motivation whereas disruptions in caudal shell elicit fearful motivation. However, GABA and glutamate signals in NAc differ in important ways, despite the similarity of their rostrocaudal motivation gradients. Methodology/Principal Findings: Microinjections of a GABAA agonist (muscimol), or of a glutamate AMPA antagonist (DNQX) in medial shell of rats were assessed for generation of hedonic "liking" or "disliking" by measuring orofacial affective reactions to sucrose-quinine taste. Motivation generation was independently assessed measuring effects on eating versus natural defensive behaviors. For GABAergic microinjections, we found that the desire-dread motivation gradient was mirrored by an equivalent hedonic gradient that amplified affective taste "liking" (at rostral sites) versus "disliking" (at caudal sites). However, manipulation of glutamatergic signals completely failed to alter pleasure-displeasure reactions to sensory hedonic impact, despite producing a strong rostrocaudal gradient of motivation. Conclusions/Significance: We conclude that the nucleus accumbens contains two functional affective keyboards for amino-acid signals: a motivation-generating keyboard and a hedonic-generating keyboard. Corticolimbic glutamate signals and subcortical GABA signals equivalently engage the motivation keyboard to generate desire and-or dread. Only subcortical GABA signals additionally engage the hedonic keyboard to amplify affective "liking" and "disliking" reactions. We thus suggest that top-down cortical glutamate signals powerfully regulate motivation components, but are relatively unable to penetrate core hedonic components of emotion. That may carry implications of limits to therapeutic regulation of pathological emotions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere11223
JournalPloS one
Issue number6
StatePublished - 2010
Externally publishedYes


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