Cholinergic modulation of mesolimbic dopamine function and reward

Gregory P. Mark, Shkelzen Shabani, Lauren K. Dobbs, Stephen T. Hansen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

100 Scopus citations


The substantial health risk posed by obesity and compulsive drug use has compelled a serious research effort to identify the neurobiological substrates that underlie the development these pathological conditions. Despite substantial progress, an understanding of the neurochemical systems that mediate the motivational aspects of drug-seeking and craving remains incomplete. Important work from the laboratory of Bart Hoebel has provided key information on neurochemical systems that interact with dopamine (DA) as potentially important components in both the development of addiction and the expression of compulsive behaviors such as binge eating. One such modulatory system appears to be cholinergic pathways that interact with DA systems at all levels of the reward circuit. Cholinergic cells in the pons project to DA-rich cell body regions in the ventral tegmental area (VTA) and substantial nigra (SN) where they modulate the activity of dopaminergic neurons and reward processing. The DA terminal region of the nucleus accumbens (NAc) contains a small but particularly important group of cholinergic interneurons, which have extensive dendritic arbors that make synapses with a vast majority of NAc neurons and afferents. Together with acetylcholine (ACh) input onto DA cell bodies, cholinergic systems could serve a vital role in gating information flow concerning the motivational value of stimuli through the mesolimbic system. In this report we highlight evidence that CNS cholinergic systems play a pivotal role in behaviors that are motivated by both natural and drug rewards. We argue that the search for underlying neurochemical substrates of compulsive behaviors, as well as attempts to identify potential pharmacotherapeutic targets to combat them, must include a consideration of central cholinergic systems.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)76-81
Number of pages6
JournalPhysiology and Behavior
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jul 25 2011
Externally publishedYes


  • Acetylcholine
  • Addiction
  • Cocaine
  • Dopamine
  • Feeding
  • Motivation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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