Ventral tegmental area neurons in learned appetitive behavior and positive reinforcement

Howard L. Fields, Gregory O. Hjelmstad, Elyssa B. Margolis, Saleem M. Nicola

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

454 Scopus citations


Ventral tegmental area (VTA) neuron firing precedes behaviors elicited by reward-predictive sensory cues and scales with the magnitude and unpredictability of received rewards. These patterns are consistent with roles in the performance of learned appetitive behaviors and in positive reinforcement, respectively. The VTA includes subpopulations of neurons with different afferent connections, neurotransmitter content, and projection targets. Because the VTA and substantia nigra pars compacta are the sole sources of striatal and limbic forebrain dopamine, measurements of dopamine release and manipulations of dopamine function have provided critical evidence supporting a VTA contribution to these functions. However, the VTA also sends GABAergic and glutamatergic projections to the nucleus accumbens and prefrontal cortex. Furthermore, VTA-mediated but dopamine-independent positive reinforcement has been demonstrated. Consequently, identifying the neurotransmitter content and projection target of VTA neurons recorded in vivo will be critical for determining their contribution to learned appetitive behaviors.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)289-316
Number of pages28
JournalAnnual Review of Neuroscience
StatePublished - 2007
Externally publishedYes


  • Dopamine
  • Nucleus accumbens
  • Opioids
  • Prefrontal cortex
  • Reward

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience


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