Kavli Affiliate: Patricia Janak
| Authors: Eric Garr, Yifeng Cheng, Huijeong Jeong, Sara Brooke, Laia Castell, Aneesh Bal, Robin Magnard, Vijay Mohan K. Namboodiri and Patricia H. Janak
Learning causal relationships relies on understanding how often one event precedes another. To gain an understanding of how dopamine neuron activity and neurotransmitter release change when a retrospective relationship is degraded for a specific pair of events, we used outcome-selective Pavlovian contingency degradation in rats. Two cues were paired with distinct food rewards, one of which was also delivered in the absence of either cue. Conditioned approach was attenuated for the cue-reward contingency that was degraded. Dopamine neuron activity in the midbrain and dopamine release in the ventral striatum showed a profile of changes in cue- and reward-evoked responding that was not easily explained by a standard reinforcement learning model. An alternative model based on learning causal relationships was better able to capture evoked dopamine responses during contingency degradation, as well as conditioned behavior following optogenetic manipulations of dopamine during noncontingent rewards. Our results suggest that mesostriatal dopamine encodes the contingencies between meaningful events during learning.