The nucleus accumbens (NAc)is involved in many reward-related behaviors. The NAc has two major components, the core and the shell. These two areas have different inputs and outputs, suggesting that they contribute differentially to goal-directed behaviors. Using a discriminative stimulus (DS) task in rats and inactivating the NAc by blocking excitatory inputs with glutamate antagonists, we dissociated core and shell contributions to task performance. NAc core but not shell inactivation decreased responding to a reward-predictive cue. In contrast, inactivation of either subregion induced a general behavioral disinhibition. This reveals that the NAc actively suppresses actions inappropriate to the DS task. Importantly, selective inactivation of the shell but not core significantly increased responding to the non rewarded cue. To determine whether the different contributions of the NAc core and shell depend on the information encoded in their constituent neurons, we performed electrophysiological recording in rats performing the DS task. Although there was no firing pattern unique to either core or shell, the reward-predictive cue elicited more frequent and larger magnitude responses in the NAc core than in the shell. Conversely, more NAc shell neurons selectively responded to the non rewarded stimulus. These quantitative differences might account for the different behavioral patterns that require either core or shell. Neurons with similar firing patterns could also have different effects on behavior due to their distinct projection targets.
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