Mapping reward mechanisms by intracerebral self-stimulation in the rhesus monkey (Macaca mulatta)

Douglas M. Bowden, Dwight C. German

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The objective of the study was to identify brain structures that mediate reward as evidenced by positive reinforcing effects of stimuli on behavior. Testing by intracerebral self-stimulation enabled monkeys to inform whether activation of ~2900 sites in 74 structures of 4 sensorimotor pathways and 4 modulatory loop pathways was positive, negative or neutral. Stimulation was rewarding at 30% of sites, negative at 17%, neutral at 52%. Virtually all (99%) structures yielded some positive or negative sites, suggesting a ubiquitous distribution of pathways transmitting valence information. Mapping of sites to structures with dense versus sparse dopaminergic (DA) or noradrenergic (NA) innervation showed that stimulation of DA-pathways was rewarding or neutral. Stimulation of NA-pathways was not rewarding. Stimulation of association areas was generally rewarding; stimulation of purely sensory or motor structures was generally negative. Reward related more to structures' sensorimotor function than to density of DA-innervation. Stimulation of basal ganglia loop pathways was rewarding except in lateral globus pallidus, an inhibitory structure in the negative feedback loop; stimulation of the cerebellar loop was rewarding in anterior vermis and the spinocerebellar pathway; and stimulation of the hippocampal CA1 loop was rewarding. While most positive sites were in the DA reward system, numerous sites in sparsely DA-innervated posterior cingulate and parietal cortices may represent a separate reward system. DA-density represents concentrations of plastic synapses that mediate acquisition of new synaptic connections. DA-sparse areas may represent innate, genetically programmed reward-associated pathways. Implications of findings in regard to response habituation and addiction are discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3564-3592
Number of pages29
JournalJournal of Comparative Neurology
Issue number16
StatePublished - Nov 2021


  • addiction
  • dopamine
  • engram
  • habituation
  • intracranial self-stimulation
  • noradrenalin
  • reward

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience


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