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Keywords:

  • reinforcement;
  • ventral striatum;
  • incentive motivation

Abstract

The role of the nucleus accumbens in incentive motivation is accepted but poorly understood. In this study, we examined in the rat one aspect of motivated behaviour which might be mediated by the nucleus accumbens, namely the translation of a motivational signal (the expected value of a reward) into motor output (responding for the reward). Rats were trained in a reaction time task in which on each trial they received one, two or three pellets. The number of pellets for each trial was randomly determined in advance and signalled to the rats by cue lights. Rats responded with faster reaction times as the size of the expected reward increased. Following ibotenic acid lesions of the nucleus accumbens, there was no difference in the pattern or the speed of reaction times. Although lesions of the nucleus accumbens did not disconnect the motivational system from the motor system, it is possible that the nucleus accumbens is involved in the learning of the incentive salience of external stimuli. Therefore, after postoperative testing the cue contingencies were reversed. Initially, the cues continued to be interpreted according to their prior significance, but eventually both the lesioned rats and the control group acquired the new relationship and did so in equivalent times. We conclude that the nucleus accumbens is not involved in the acquisition or expression of the processes whereby the expectation of rewards of different value is translated into a motor initiation signal.