• medial prefrontal cortex;
  • microdialysis;
  • nucleus accumbens core and shell;
  • rats;
  • social recognition


Behaviourally relevant novel stimuli are known to activate the mesocorticolimbic dopaminergic (DAergic) system. In this study we tested the reactivity of this system in response to distinct kinds of novelty processing. Using the in vivo microdialysis technique, we measured extracellular amounts of dopamine (DA) in different DAergic terminal regions during a social learning task in rats. In the first session (40 min) rats were exposed to two never previously encountered juveniles (i.e. unconditional novelty). Afterwards, the animals were divided into three groups: Control group was not exposed to any other stimulus; Discrimination group was exposed to one familiar and one new juvenile (i.e. novel stimulus discrimination); and Recognition group was re-exposed to the two familiar juveniles (i.e. familiarity recognition). In both the medial prefrontal cortex and the nucleus accumbens shell DA increased in response to the first presentation of the juveniles, showing that both structures are involved in processing unconditional social novelty. During the novel stimulus discrimination, we found no change in the prefrontal cortex, although DA increased in the accumbal shell in comparison with the group exposed to two familiar juveniles, showing that the shell is also involved in processing novel social stimulus discrimination. None of the stimuli presented affected DA in the accumbal core. This study provided the original evidence that DA in the various terminal regions is differentially coupled to distinct aspects of novelty processing.