Dynamic representation of appetitive and aversive stimuli in nucleus accumbens shell D1- and D2-medium spiny neurons

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The nucleus accumbens (NAc) is a key brain region for motivated behaviors, yet how distinct neuronal populations encode appetitive or aversive stimuli remains undetermined. Using microendoscopic calcium imaging, we tracked NAc shell D1- or D2-medium spiny neurons’ (MSNs) activity during exposure to stimuli of opposing valence and associative learning. Despite drift in individual neurons’ coding, both D1- and D2-population activity was sufficient to discriminate opposing valence unconditioned stimuli, but not predictive cues. Notably, D1- and D2-MSNs were similarly co-recruited during appetitive and aversive conditioning, supporting a concurrent role in associative learning. Conversely, when contingencies changed, there was an asymmetric response in the NAc, with more pronounced changes in the activity of D2-MSNs. Optogenetic manipulation of D2-MSNs provided causal evidence of the necessity of this population in the extinction of aversive associations.

Our results reveal how NAc shell neurons encode valence, Pavlovian associations and their extinction, and unveil new mechanisms underlying motivated behaviors.

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