Striatal dopamine signals reflect perceived cue–action–outcome associations in mice

Tobias W. Bernklau, Beatrice Righetti, Leonie S. Mehrke, Simon N. Jacob

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Striatal dopamine drives associative learning by acting as a teaching signal. Much work has focused on simple learning paradigms, including Pavlovian and instrumental learning. However, higher cognition requires that animals generate internal concepts of their environment, where sensory stimuli, actions and outcomes become flexibly associated. Here, we performed fiber photometry dopamine measurements across the striatum of male mice as they learned cue–action–outcome associations based on implicit and changing task rules. Reinforcement learning models of the behavioral and dopamine data showed that rule changes lead to adjustments of learned cue–action–outcome associations. After rule changes, mice discarded learned associations and reset outcome expectations. Cue- and outcome-triggered dopamine signals became uncoupled and dependent on the adopted behavioral strategy. As mice learned the new association, coupling between cue- and outcome-triggered dopamine signals and task performance re-emerged. Our results suggest that dopaminergic reward prediction errors reflect an agent’s perceived locus of control.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)747-757
Number of pages11
JournalNature Neuroscience
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2024
Externally publishedYes


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