Prefrontal dopamine circuits are required for active avoidance learning but not for fear learning

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Abstract

The medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) resolves approach-avoidance conflicts and mediates associative processes required for learning to avoid threats. Dopamine (DA) projections from the ventral tegmental area (VTA) to the mPFC carry information about aversive outcomes that may inform prefrontal computations. However, the role of prefrontal DA in learning based on aversive outcomes remains poorly understood. Here, we used platform mediated avoidance (PMA) to study the role of mPFC DA in threat avoidance learning in mice. We show that activity within dopaminergic VTA terminals in the mPFC is required for signaled avoidance learning, but not for escape, conditioned fear, or to recall a previously learned avoidance strategy. Taken together, these data indicate that mPFC DA is necessary to rapidly form associations between predictive cues and actions that preempt aversive outcomes but not for cue-outcome learning.

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