Lesions of the ventral hippocampus attenuate the acquisition but not expression of sign-tracking behavior in rats.

PMID 27438780


Individual variation in the attribution of motivational salience to reward-related cues is believed to underlie addiction vulnerability. Pavlovian conditioned approach measures individual variation in motivational salience by identifying rats that are attracted to and motivated by reward cues (sign-trackers) or motivationally fixed on the reward itself (goal-trackers). Previously, it has been demonstrated that sign-trackers are more vulnerable to addiction-like behavior. Moreover, sign-trackers release more dopamine in the nucleus accumbens than goal-trackers in response to reward-related cues, and sign- but not goal-tracking behavior is dopamine-dependent. In the present study, we investigated whether the ventral hippocampus, a potent driver of dopaminergic activity in the nucleus accumbens, modulates the acquisition and expression of Pavlovian conditioned approach behavior. In Experiment 1, lesions of the ventral, but not dorsal or total hippocampus, decreased sign-tracking behavior. In Experiment 2, lesions of the ventral hippocampus did not affect the expression of sign- or goal-tracking behaviors nor conditioned reinforcement. In addition, temporary inactivation of the ventral subiculum, the main output pathway of the ventral hippocampus, did not affect the expression of sign- or goal-tracking behaviors. High-pressure liquid chromatography of nucleus accumbens tissue punches revealed that ventral hippocampal lesions decreased levels of homovanillic acid and the homovanillic acid/dopamine ratio (a marker of dopamine release and metabolism) in only sign-trackers, and decreased accumbal norepinephrine levels in both sign- and goal-trackers. These results suggest that the ventral hippocampus is important for the acquisition but not expression of sign-tracking behavior, possibly as a result of altered dopamine and norepinephrine in the nucleus accumbens. © 2016 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.