The nucleus accumbens (NAc) has long been thought of as a limbic-motor interface. Despite behavioral and anatomical evidence in favor of this idea, little is known about how NAc neurons encode information about motivationally relevant environmental cues and use this information to affect motor action. We therefore investigated the firing of these neurons during the performance of a discriminative stimulus (DS) task using simultaneous multiple single-unit recordings in rats. In this task, two stimuli are randomly presented to the animal: a DS, which signals the availability of a sucrose reward contingent on an operant response, and a similar but nonrewarded stimulus (NS). Subpopulations of NAc neurons increased or decreased their firing in association with several distinct components of the task. In this paper, we investigate cue- and operant-responsive neurons. Neurons excited and inhibited by cues showed larger firing changes in response to the DS than the NS and larger changes when the animal made an operant response to the cue than when the animal failed to respond. Excitations during operant responding were not modulated by the information contained by the cue, whereas inhibitions during operant responding were somewhat larger if the operant response occurred during the DS and somewhat smaller if they occurred in the absence of a cue. These results are consistent with the hypothesis that the firing of subpopulations of NAc neurons encode both the predictive value of environmental stimuli and the specific motor behaviors required to respond to them.
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