Reward versus motoric activations in nucleus accumbens core of rats during Pavlovian conditioning

Joshua P. Stamos, Sisi Ma, Anthony P. Pawlak, Nofar Engelhard, Jon C. Horvitz, Mark O. West

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The nucleus accumbens (NAc) core plays an important role in processing of events related to food reward, such as conditioned cues, approach or consumption. Nonetheless, there is lack of clarity regarding whether NAc core processes these separable events differently. We used the high temporal and spatial resolution of single unit recording with trial-by-trial video analysis to examine firing during three distinct categories termed cue, approach and consumption in a Pavlovian task. We had three goals. First, we sought to precisely define task-related behaviour in terms of distinct phases, in order to compare neural activity between motorically matched behaviours. We found that cue-evoked firing did not distinguish between trials on which animals initiated an approach versus ones on which they did not. Firing associated with consumption was greater than firing associated with motorically similar uncued head entry, indicating that previously reported decreases in NAc core firing during consumption relative to approach or baseline may reflect differences in motor behaviour. Secondly, we assessed changes in firing over the course of training. We found that NAc core neurons acquired a response to the tone cue within three sessions but did not change further across 10 total sessions. Thirdly, we correlated individual neuron firing during a given event with its firing during the same event on subsequent sessions. We found substantial variation in processing of cue and approach but not consumption, indicating that a given neuron may process certain events differently from session to session, while maintaining more stable processing of appetitive reward.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3570-3590
Number of pages21
JournalEuropean Journal of Neuroscience
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jul 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research was supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health (DA 006886, DA 023641, DA 035589 and F31DK 104645). The authors would like to thank Alisa Ray, Thomas Grace and Jackie Thomas for their help with technical support.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 Federation of European Neuroscience Societies and John Wiley & Sons Ltd.


  • Pavlovian
  • accumbens
  • behaviour
  • electrophysiology
  • rat

PubMed: MeSH publication types

  • Journal Article
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural


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