Reward-related FMRI activation of dopaminergic midbrain is associated with enhanced hippocampus-dependent long-term memory formation.
Long-term potentiation in the hippocampus can be enhanced and prolonged by dopaminergic inputs from midbrain structures such as the substantia nigra. This improved synaptic plasticity is hypothesized to be associated with better memory consolidation in the hippocampus. We used a condition that reliably elicits a dopaminergic response, reward anticipation, to study the relationship between activity of dopaminergic midbrain areas and hippocampal long-term memory in healthy adults. Pictures of object drawings that predicted monetary reward were associated with stronger fMRI activity in reward-related brain areas, including the substantia nigra, compared with non-reward-predicting pictures. Three weeks later, recollection and source memory were better for reward-predicting than for non-reward-predicting pictures. FMRI activity in the hippocampus and the midbrain was higher for reward-predicting pictures that were later recognized compared with later forgotten pictures. These data are consistent with the hypothesis that activation of dopaminergic midbrain regions enhances hippocampus-dependent memory formation, possibly by enhancing consolidation.