This talk will focus on the role of the anterior cingulate cortex’s (ACC) interactions with the dopaminergic neurons in the ventral tegmental area (VTA) during adaptive behaviour. The overall question of this talk is: how does information gained during goal pursuit modify and motivate subsequent behavior? This larger question is addressed through review of three of my recent experiments which aimed (i) to determine whether cortical influence over the dopaminergic midbrain is a mechanism by which ACC signals are implemented as VTA motivation signals; (ii) to determine the relationships between the ACC and VTA during the initiation and maintenance of behavioral change; and (iii) to determine whether mesocortical ACC-VTA signalling is involved in feedback integration.
Through a combination of behavioral, electrophysiological, and modelling analyses in rats, we found that the initiation of exploratory behavior and the persistence of behavioural change were both associated with ACC-to-VTA signalling. Additionally, we characterized the content of ACC neuronal task models, and showed that ensembles of ACC neurons encode simple actions and values. This was important because, despite the longstanding assumption that the ACC encodes neuronal models of the task at hand, the content of those internal representations remained unclear. Furthermore, we demonstrated that value-coding elements of ACC neuronal task models are particularly influenced by the VTA. This is important because it suggests that mesocortical dopaminergic signalling is a means by which ACC models of the task at hand could be both initiated and modified. The talk will conclude with the future directions of my current work here in Tuebingen.