It is often assumed that the nucleus accumbens is the ‘reward centre’ of the brain
New research conducted at the University of Amsterdam (UvA) shows that cells in the nucleus accumbens primarily code expected reward outcomes, but are not active with respect to reward itself.
The study shows that this brain region is a pluriform brain stem where reward prediction and motivation are linked to specific aspects of behaviour. With this discovery, the scientists have laid a foundation for a better understanding of brain disorders, such as drug and gambling addiction, depression and obsessive-compulsive disorder. The findings were published in the Journal of Neuroscience on 5 September 2012.
In collaboration with psychologists from the Cambridge University, UvA researcher Carien Lansink and her colleagues designed an experiment to find out what factors control the activity of cells in the nucleus accumbens. The activity is a result of the ‘firing’ of electrical pulses (spikes) by the cells. At the same time, the scientists conducted research on cells in the hippocampus, a structure that is important for memory and navigation, and especially in transmitting detailed spatial information to the nucleus accumbens.
Carien S. Lansink, Jadin C. Jackson, Jan V. Lankelma, Rutsuko Ito, Trevor W. Robbins, Barry J. Everitt, Cyriel M.A. Pennartz:Reward cues in space: commonalities and differences in neural coding by hippocampal and ventral striatal ensembles. Journal of Neuroscience (5 September 2012).