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Concept: Ventral striatum


Our reputation is important to us; we’ve experienced natural selection to care about our reputation. Recently, the neural processing of gains in reputation (positive social feedback concerning one’s character) has been shown to occur in the human ventral striatum. It is still unclear, however, how individual differences in the processing of gains in reputation may lead to individual differences in real-world behavior. For example, in the real-world, one way that people currently maintain their reputation is by using social media websites, like Facebook. Furthermore, Facebook use consists of a social comparison component, where users observe others' behavior and can compare it to their own. Therefore, we hypothesized a relationship between the way the brain processes specifically self-relevant gains in reputation and one’s degree of Facebook use. We recorded functional neuroimaging data while participants received gains in reputation, observed the gains in reputation of another person, or received monetary reward. We demonstrate that across participants, when responding to gains in reputation for the self, relative to observing gains for others, reward-related activity in the left nucleus accumbens predicts Facebook use. However, nucleus accumbens activity in response to monetary reward did not predict Facebook use. Finally, a control step-wise regression analysis showed that Facebook use primarily explains our results in the nucleus accumbens. Overall, our results demonstrate how individual sensitivity of the nucleus accumbens to the receipt of self-relevant social information leads to differences in real-world behavior.

Concepts: Ventral striatum, Ventral tegmental area, Hypothesis, Nucleus accumbens, Social media, Striatum, Scientific method, Observation


Amphetamine has well-established actions on presynaptic dopamine signaling, such as inhibiting uptake and degradation, activating synthesis, depleting vesicular stores, and promoting dopamine-transporter reversal and non-exocytotic release. Recent in vivo studies have identified an additional mechanism: augmenting vesicular release. Here we investigated how amphetamine elicits this effect. Our hypothesis was that amphetamine enhances vesicular dopamine release in dorsal and ventral striata by differentially targeting dopamine synthesis and degradation. In urethane-anesthetized rats, we employed voltammetry to monitor dopamine, electrical stimulation to deplete stores or assess vesicular release and uptake, and pharmacology to isolate degradation and synthesis. While amphetamine increased electrically evoked dopamine levels, inhibited uptake, and up-regulated vesicular release in both striatal sub-regions in controls, this psychostimulant elicited region-specific effects on evoked levels and vesicular release but not uptake in drug treatments. Evoked levels better correlated with vesicular release compared to uptake, supporting enhanced vesicular release as an important amphetamine mechanism. Taken together, these results suggested that amphetamine enhances vesicular release in the dorsal striatum by activating dopamine synthesis and inhibiting dopamine degradation, but targeting an alternative mechanism in the ventral striatum. Region-distinct activation of vesicular dopamine release highlights complex cellular actions of amphetamine and may have implications for its behavioral effects. © 2013 International Society for Neurochemistry, J. Neurochem. (2013) 10.1111/jnc.12197.

Concepts: Ventral striatum, Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, In vivo, Ventral tegmental area, Striatum, Substantia nigra, Nucleus accumbens, Dopamine


A recent study has implicated the nucleus accumbens of the ventral striatum in explaining why online-users spend time on the social network platform Facebook. Here, higher activity of the nucleus accumbens was associated with gaining reputation on social media. In the present study, we touched a related research field. We recorded the actual Facebook usage of N=62 participants on their smartphones over the course of five weeks and correlated summary measures of Facebook use with gray matter volume of the nucleus accumbens. It appeared, that in particular higher daily frequency of checking Facebook on the smartphone was robustly linked with smaller gray matter volumes of the nucleus accumbens. The present study gives additional support for the rewarding aspects of Facebook usage. Moreover, it shows the feasibility to include real life behavior variables in human neuroscientific research.

Concepts: Time, Thermodynamics, Ventral striatum, Striatum, Nucleus accumbens


It was examined how ventral striatum responses to rewards develop across adolescence and early adulthood and how individual differences in state- and trait-level reward sensitivity are related to these changes. Participants (aged 8-29 years) were tested across three waves separated by 2 years (693 functional MRI scans) in an accelerated longitudinal design. The results confirmed an adolescent peak in reward-related ventral striatum, specifically nucleus accumbens, activity. In early to mid-adolescence, increases in reward activation were related to trait-level reward drive. In mid-adolescence to early adulthood decreases in reward activation were related to decreases in state-level hedonic reward pleasure. This study demonstrates that state- and trait-level reward sensitivity account for reward-related ventral striatum activity in different phases of adolescence and early adulthood.

Concepts: Putamen, Pleasure, Ventral striatum, Ventral tegmental area, Striatum, Nucleus accumbens


Dopamine input to the dorsal and ventral striatum originates from separate populations of midbrain neurons. Despite differences in afferent inputs and behavioral output, little is known about how dopamine release is encoded by dopamine receptors on medium spiny neurons (MSNs) across striatal subregions. Here we examined the activation of D2 receptors following the synaptic release of dopamine in the dorsal striatum (DStr) and nucleus accumbens (NAc) shell. We found that D2 receptor-mediated synaptic currents were slower in the NAc and this difference occurred at the level of D2-receptor signaling. As a result of preferential coupling to Gαo, we also found that D2 receptors in MSNs demonstrated higher sensitivity for dopamine in the NAc. The higher sensitivity in the NAc was eliminated following cocaine exposure. These results identify differences in the sensitivity and timing of D2-receptor signaling across the striatum that influence how nigrostriatal and mesolimbic signals are encoded across these circuits.

Concepts: Ventral striatum, Mesolimbic pathway, Ventral tegmental area, Striatum, Substantia nigra, Dopamine, Nucleus accumbens


Chronic psychostimulant treatment in rodents readily produces behavioral sensitization, which reflects altered brain function in response to repeated drug exposure. Numerous morphological and biochemical investigations implicate altered neural plasticity in striatal medium spiny neurons (MSNs) as an essential component in behavioral sensitization. The mammalian target of the rapamycin (mTOR) signaling pathway, a key regulator of synaptic neuroplasticity, in the ventral striatum of methamphetamine (METH) -sensitized mice was investigated to determine if a link exists with the development of METH sensitization. Behaviorally, METH-sensitized mice possessed increased levels of phosphorylated mTOR/S2448 and its down-stream regulator p70S6K and pS6 in the ventral striatum. Systemic treatment with rapamycin, a specific mTOR inhibitor, coincident with a daily METH injection suppressed the induction of METH sensitization and reduced the number of dendritic spines in the shell and core of the nucleus accumbens. The infusion of lentivirus-expressing mTOR-shRNA into the shell region of the nucleus accumbens inhibited the induction of behavioral sensitization to METH, which was comparable to the effect of rapamycin. These results suggest that mTORC1-mediated signaling in the nucleus accumbens mediates the development of behavioral sensitization to METH.

Concepts: Methamphetamine, Neurons, Ventral striatum, Cocaine, Amphetamine, Neuron, Striatum, Nucleus accumbens


Knowing whether core reward regions carry information about the positions of relevant objects is crucial for adjudicating between choice models. One limitation of previous studies, including our own, is that spatial positions can be consistently differentially associated with rewards, and thus, position can be confounded with attention, motor plans, or target identity. We circumvented these problems by using a task in which value-and thus choices-was determined solely by a frequently changing rule, which was randomized relative to spatial position on each trial. We presented offers asynchronously, which allowed us to control for reward expectation, spatial attention, and motor plans in our analyses. We find robust encoding of the spatial position of both offers and choices in two core reward regions, orbitofrontal Area 13 and ventral striatum, as well as in dorsal striatum of macaques. The trial-by-trial correlation in noise in encoding of position was associated with variation in choice, an effect known as choice probability correlation, suggesting that the spatial encoding is associated with choice and is not incidental to it. Spatial information and reward information are not carried by separate sets of neurons, although the two forms of information are temporally dissociable. These results highlight the ubiquity of multiplexed information in association cortex and argue against the idea that these ostensible reward regions serve as part of a pure value domain.

Concepts: Ventral striatum, Limbic system, Caudate nucleus, Brain, Ventral tegmental area, Nucleus accumbens, Striatum, Cerebrum


Mechanisms underlying differential sensitivity to behavioural sensitization to ethanol (EtOH) remain poorly understood, although accumulating evidence suggests a role for glutamatergic processes in the ventral striatum. Efforts to address this issue can benefit from the well-documented fact that in any given cohort, some of the mice (High sensitized; HS) show robust sensitization, while others (Low sensitized; LS) show little, if any, sensitization. Here, we examined whether this variability might be differentially associated with nucleus accumbens (NAc) glutamate processes. Male DBA mice received 5 EtOH (2.2g/kg) or saline injections twice a week and were challenged with EtOH (1.8g/kg) 2 weeks after injection 5. When an EtOH challenge was administered 2 weeks following the induction of sensitization, HS, but not LS, mice showed a robust increase in glutamate levels (67%, P<0.01) as measured by in vivo microdialysis. In a separate cohort, the mGlu2/3 agonist LY354740 (10mg/kg), given prior to the EtOH challenge, abolished the expression of sensitization. To ascertain whether enhanced release could also be observed during the induction of sensitization, glutamate levels were measured after the 1st and 5th EtOH injection and were found to be unchanged in HS mice, although briefly elevated in LS mice at injection 5. To further assess possible glutamate involvement during the induction of sensitization, sensitizing EtOH injections were co-administered with NMDAR antagonists. At the doses used, MK-801 (0.25mg/kg) and CGS 19755 (10mg/kg) blocked the expression of sensitization, but did not significantly interfere with the development of EtOH sensitization. Within the limitations of the present design, the results suggest an important role for EtOH-induced glutamate release in the NAc when sensitization is well established, but not necessarily during the development of sensitization.

Concepts: Putamen, Eric Kandel, Ventral striatum, Sensitization, NMDA receptor, Nucleus accumbens, Behaviorism, Striatum


Despite empirical findings showing that patients with schizophrenia and their unaffected first-degree relatives have deficits in processing monetary incentives, it is unclear whether similar deficits could be demonstrated for affective incentives. Twenty-six patients with schizophrenia and 26 age and gender matched healthy controls; 23 unaffected first-degree relatives and 23 matched healthy controls were recruited to complete a Monetary Incentive Delay (MID) task and an Affective Incentive Delay (AID) task in a 3-Tesla MRI scanner. Hypoactivation in the dorsal striatum when anticipating monetary incentives were found in patients with schizophrenia and their unaffected first-degree relatives compared with healthy controls. Furthermore, patients with schizophrenia showed hyperactivation in the ventral striatum when receiving both monetary and affective incentives. These findings suggest that disorganized striatal function, regardless of incentive types, may be present in patients with schizophrenia and before the onset of illness in their first-degree unaffected relatives.

Concepts: Magnetic resonance imaging, Affect, The Onset, Incentive, Family, Ventral striatum, Nucleus accumbens, Striatum


MicroRNAs (miRNAs) within the ventral and dorsal striatum have been shown to regulate addiction-relevant behaviours. However, it is unclear how cocaine experience alone can alter the expression of addiction-relevant miRNAs within striatal subregions. Further, it is not known whether differential expression of miRNAs in the striatum contributes to individual differences in addiction vulnerability. We first examined the effect of cocaine self-administration on the expression of miR-101b, miR-137, miR-212 and miR-132 in nucleus accumbens core and nucleus accumbens shell (NAcSh), as well as dorsomedial striatum and dorsolateral striatum (DLS). We then examined the expression of these same miRNAs in striatal subregions of animals identified as being ‘addiction-prone’, either immediately following self-administration training or following extinction and relapse testing. Cocaine self-administration was associated with changes in miRNA expression in a regionally discrete manner within the striatum, with the most marked changes occurring in the nucleus accumbens core. When we examined the miRNA profile of addiction-prone rats following self-administration, we observed increased levels of miR-212 in the dorsomedial striatum. After extinction and relapse testing, addiction-prone rats showed significant increases in the expression of miR-101b, miR-137, miR-212 and miR-132 in NAcSh, and miR-137 in the DLS. This study identifies temporally specific changes in miRNA expression consistent with the engagement of distinct striatal subregions across the course of the addiction cycle. Increased dysregulation of miRNA expression in NAcSh and DLS at late stages of the addiction cycle may underlie habitual drug seeking, and may therefore aid in the identification of targets designed to treat addiction.

Concepts: Globus pallidus, Dopamine, Ventral striatum, Putamen, Substantia nigra, Ventral tegmental area, Nucleus accumbens, Striatum