Main Menu (Mobile)- Block
Main Menu - Block
Coherent control of purposive actions emerges from the coordination of multiple brain circuits during learning. Dissociable brain circuits and cell-types are thought to preferentially participate in distinct learning mechanisms. For example, the activity of midbrain dopamine (mDA) neurons is proposed to primarily, or even exclusively, reflect reward prediction error signals in well-trained animals. To study the specific contribution of individual circuits requires observing changes before tight functional coordination is achieved. However, little is known about the detailed timing of the emergence of reward-related representations in dopaminergic neurons. Here we recorded activity of identified dopaminergic neurons as naive mice learned a novel stimulus-reward association. We found that at early stages of learning mDA neuron activity reflected both external (sensory) and internal (action initiation) causes of reward expectation. The increasingly precise correlation of action initiation with sensory stimuli rather than an evaluation of outcomes governed mDA neuron activity. Thus, our data demonstrate that mDA neuron activity early in learning does not reflect errors, but is more akin to a Hebbian learning signal - providing new insight into a critical computation in a highly conserved, essential learning circuit.