The nucleus accumbens (NAc) has often been described as a “limbic-motor interface,” implying that the NAc integrates the value of expected rewards with the motor planning required to obtain them. However, there is little direct evidence that the signaling of individual NAc neurons combines information about predicted reward and behavioral response. We report that cue-evoked neural responses in the NAc form a likely physiological substrate for its limbic-motor integration function. Across task contexts, individual NAc neurons in behaving rats robustly encode the reward-predictive qualities of a cue, as well as the probability of behavioral response to the cue, as coexisting components of the neural signal. In addition, cue-evoked activity encodes spatial and locomotor aspects of the behavioral response, including proximity to a reward-associated target and the latency and speed of approach to the target. Notably, there are important limits to the ability of NAc neurons to integrate motivational information into behavior: in particular, updating of predicted reward value appears to occur on a relatively long timescale, since NAc neurons fail to discriminate between cues with reward associations that change frequently. Overall, these findings suggest that NAc cue-evoked signals, including inhibition of firing (as noted here for the first time), provide a mechanism for linking reward prediction and other motivationally relevant factors, such as spatial proximity, to the probability and vigor of a reward-seeking behavioral response. NEW & NOTEWORTHY The nucleus accumbens (NAc) is thought to link expected rewards and action planning, but evidence for this idea remains sparse. We show that, across contexts, both excitatory and inhibitory cue-evoked activity in the NAc jointly encode reward prediction and probability of behavioral responding to the cue, as well as spatial and locomotor properties of the response. Interestingly, although spatial information in the NAc is updated quickly, finegrained updating of reward value occurs over a longer timescale.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Nucleus accumbens