AANS Neurosurgeon | Volume 26, Number 1, 2017

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Both Sides Now: Dopamine, the Brain's "Reward" Molecule, Also Controls Learning to Avoid an Unpleasant Experience

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“We know that dopamine reinforces ‘rewarding’ behaviors, but to our surprise, we have no shown that situations that animals learn to avoid are also regulated by dopamine,” said senior author John Dani, PhD, chair of the department of Neuroscience. During both negative and positive situations, the brain sends out a burst of dopamine. However, many neuroscientists have varying ideas of the exact way in which dopamine neurons are wired and connected to the hippocampus. Knowing exactly how these neurons interacts and shapes memory and behavior is important to better understand such conditions as post-traumatic stress syndrome. “We showed in mice that a special circuit in the hippocampus has flexibility in combining with environmental input to shape behavior during an experiment in which the mice learn to avoid an unpleasant experience,” Dani said. “This is the first time that we have been able to show, as proof of principle, that the dopamine circuitry is also involved in learning to avoid aversive situations.” Click here to learn more. 

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