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Research Highlights

Neurosciences Department Research Highlights

Unlocking a Mystery of the Brain's Reward System

Image illustrating correlated neuronal activity and instrumental behavior during execution of a motivated behavior.

Dr. Marie Gadziola (Research Scientist, Wesson Lab) recently published a study in the Journal of Neuroscience, that was featured in "This week in the Journal" which fills a major void in our understanding of the brain's reward system. Dr. Gadziola found that neurons in the ventral striatum's olfactory tubercle region encode goal-directed actions and their outcomes, including the size and type of reinforcers. Elegant work over decades by many research groups has shown that the ventral striatum's nucleus accumbens region encodes rewards, but Dr. Gadziola's work is novel in showing that the olfactory tubercle also participates in this function. This work, which is highly relevant to understanding the brain basis of motivated behaviors, including addiction and compulsive behaviors, now begins to complete the brain's reward circuitry, of which many current models had not even incorporated the olfactory tubercle into.

Full reference: Gadziola, M & Wesson, D. 2016. The Neural Representation of Goal-Directed Actions and Outcomes in the Ventral Striatum's Olfactory Tubercle. J Neuroscience, 36(2): 548-60.