Toward isolating the role of dopamine in the acquisition of incentive salience attribution

Jonathan J. Chow, Justin R. Nickell, Mahesh Darna, Joshua S. Beckmann

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Scopus citations


Stimulus-reward learning has been heavily linked to the reward-prediction error learning hypothesis and dopaminergic function. However, some evidence suggests dopaminergic function may not strictly underlie reward-prediction error learning, but may be specific to incentive salience attribution. Utilizing a Pavlovian conditioned approach procedure consisting of two stimuli that were equally reward-predictive (both undergoing reward-prediction error learning) but functionally distinct in regard to incentive salience (levers that elicited sign-tracking and tones that elicited goal-tracking), we tested the differential role of D1 and D2 dopamine receptors and nucleus accumbens dopamine in the acquisition of sign- and goal-tracking behavior and their associated conditioned reinforcing value within individuals. Overall, the results revealed that both D1 and D2 inhibition disrupted performance of sign- and goal-tracking. However, D1 inhibition specifically prevented the acquisition of sign-tracking to a lever, instead promoting goal-tracking and decreasing its conditioned reinforcing value, while neither D1 nor D2 signaling was required for goal-tracking in response to a tone. Likewise, nucleus accumbens dopaminergic lesions disrupted acquisition of sign-tracking to a lever, while leaving goal-tracking in response to a tone unaffected. Collectively, these results are the first evidence of an intraindividual dissociation of dopaminergic function in incentive salience attribution from reward-prediction error learning, indicating that incentive salience, reward-prediction error, and their associated dopaminergic signaling exist within individuals and are stimulus-specific. Thus, individual differences in incentive salience attribution may be reflective of a differential balance in dopaminergic function that may bias toward the attribution of incentive salience, relative to reward-prediction error learning only.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)320-331
Number of pages12
StatePublished - Oct 1 2016

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We would like to thank William T. McCuddy, Joshua N. Lavy, and Andrew Edel for their technical support. We also thank Linda P. Dwoskin for her support. Finally, we thank Steven B. Harrod for his insightful feedback on an earlier draft of the manuscript. Funding was provided by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), DA033373 and DA016176 .

Publisher Copyright:
© 2016 Elsevier Ltd


  • Dopamine
  • Goal-tracking
  • Incentive salience
  • Sign-tracking

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Pharmacology
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience


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