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Reward-motivated learning: mesolimbic activation precedes memory formation.

We examined anticipatory mechanisms of reward-motivated memory formation using event-related FMRI. In a monetary incentive encoding task, cues signaled high- or low-value reward for memorizing an upcoming scene. When tested 24 hr postscan, subjects were significantly more likely to remember scenes that followed cues for high-value rather than low-value reward. A monetary incentive delay task independently localized regions responsive to reward anticipation. In the encoding task, high-reward cues preceding remembered but not forgotten scenes activated the ventral tegmental area, nucleus accumbens, and hippocampus. Across subjects, greater activation in these regions predicted superior memory performance. Within subject, increased correlation between the hippocampus and ventral tegmental area was associated with enhanced long-term memory for the subsequent scene. These findings demonstrate that brain activation preceding stimulus encoding can predict declarative memory formation. The findings are consistent with the hypothesis that reward motivation promotes memory formation via dopamine release in the hippocampus prior to learning.

Pubmed ID: 16675403


  • Adcock RA
  • Thangavel A
  • Whitfield-Gabrieli S
  • Knutson B
  • Gabrieli JD



Publication Data

May 4, 2006

Associated Grants

  • Agency: NIMH NIH HHS, Id: MH59940
  • Agency: NIMH NIH HHS, Id: R25 MH060482

Mesh Terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Brain Mapping
  • Cues
  • Dopamine
  • Female
  • Hippocampus
  • Humans
  • Learning
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Memory
  • Motivation
  • Neural Pathways
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Nucleus Accumbens
  • Reward
  • Synaptic Transmission
  • Ventral Tegmental Area