Role of Dopamine Neurons in Reward and Aversion: A Synaptic Plasticity Perspective

Marco Pignatelli, Antonello Bonci

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

160 Scopus citations


The brain is wired to predict future outcomes. Experience-dependent plasticity at excitatory synapses within dopamine neurons of the ventral tegmental area, a key region for a broad range of motivated behaviors, is thought to be a fundamental cellular mechanism that enables adaptation to a dynamic environment. Thus, depending on the circumstances, dopamine neurons are capable of processing both positive and negative reinforcement learning strategies. In this review, we will discuss how changes in synaptic plasticity of dopamine neurons may affect dopamine release, as well as behavioral adaptations to different environmental conditions falling at opposite ends of a saliency spectrum ranging from reward to aversion. Pignatelli and Bonci review emerging concepts on synaptic plasticity of dopaminergic neurons, with respect to neural processing and coding of both rewarding and aversive stimuli.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1145-1157
Number of pages13
Issue number5
StatePublished - Jun 3 2015


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