Midbrain dopaminergic neurons projecting to the ventral striatum code for reward magnitude and probability during reward anticipation and then indicate the difference between actual and predicted outcome. It has been questioned whether such a common system for the prediction and evaluation of reward exists in humans. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging and a guessing task in two large cohorts, we are able to confirm ventral striatal responses coding both reward probability and magnitude during anticipation, permitting the local computation of expected value (EV). However, the ventral striatum only represented the gain-related part of EV (EV+). At reward delivery, the same area shows a reward probability and magnitude-dependent prediction error signal, best modeled as the difference between actual outcome and EV+. In contrast, loss-related expected value (EV-) and the associated prediction error was represented in the amygdala. Thus, the ventral striatum and the amygdala distinctively process the value of a prediction and subsequently compute a prediction error for gains and losses, respectively. Therefore, a homeostatic balance of both systems might be important for generating adequate expectations under uncertainty. Prevalence of either part might render expectations more positive or negative, which could contribute to the pathophysiology of mood disorders like major depression.
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