A unified framework for dopamine signals across time scales


Kim, H. G. R., Malik, A. N., Mikhael, J. G., Bech, P., Tsutsui-Kimura, I., Sun, F., Zhang, Y., et al. (2019). A unified framework for dopamine signals across time scales. bioRxiv , 803437.
PDF38.51 MB


Rapid phasic activity of midbrain dopamine neurons are thought to signal reward prediction errors (RPEs), resembling temporal difference errors used in machine learning. Recent studies describing slowly increasing dopamine signals have instead proposed that they represent state values and arise independently from somatic spiking activity. Here, we developed novel experimental paradigms using virtual reality that disambiguate RPEs from values. We examined the dopamine circuit activity at various stages including somatic spiking, axonal calcium signals, and striatal dopamine concentrations. Our results demonstrate that ramping dopamine signals are consistent with RPEs rather than value, and this ramping is observed at all the stages examined. We further show that ramping dopamine signals can be driven by a dynamic stimulus that indicates a gradual approach to a reward. We provide a unified computational understanding of rapid phasic and slowly ramping dopamine signals: dopamine neurons perform a derivative-like computation over values on a moment-by-moment basis.

Publisher's Version

Last updated on 01/18/2020