Behavioral associations of neuronal activity in the ventral tegmental area of the rat

Ann E.K. Kosobud, Glenda C. Harris, John K. Chapin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

85 Scopus citations


The ventral tegmental area (VTA) is a central element in a system that mediates the reinforcing properties of natural stimuli (such as food), brain stimulation, and drugs of abuse. Although considerable effort has been applied to understanding how drugs of abuse influence this system, relatively little work has examined its function during conditioned reinforcement tasks in awake, behaving animals. In the present studies, bundles of four to eight microwire electrodes were chronically implanted in the VTA or prefrontal cortex (PFC) of male Wistar rats. Following recovery from surgery, simultaneous recordings from multiple single neurons and unit clusters were obtained in rats pressing a lever for a sucrose solution on a fixed-ratio schedule of reinforcement. Consistent with the hypothesis that these neurons encode information related to motivation, most of the neurons in both VTA and PFC showed significant modulation of firing rate associated with one or more events occurring within the response/reinforcement cycle. These events included lever presses, onset and end of a tone signaling sucrose delivery, and onset and end of sucrose consumption. Significant decreases in firing rate were observed, coincident with onset of the tone and sucrose delivery, or with consumption. These decreases were sustained through the end of sucrose consumption. A number of neurons also discharged bursts of activity associated with individual lever presses. These findings provide a clear demonstration that VTA neuronal activity is modulated during motivated behavior. Similar information about events within the ongoing response/reinforcement cycle appears to be distributed through many neurons within the VTA, and may be mirrored in target structures such as PFC.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)7117-7129
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of Neuroscience
Issue number11 II
StatePublished - 1994


  • behavior
  • dopamine
  • freely moving
  • prefrontal cortex
  • reward
  • single-unit recording
  • ventral tegmental area

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)

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