Many behaviors are learned through trial and error by matching performance to internal goals. Yet neural mechanisms of performance evaluation remain poorly understood.We recorded basal ganglia-projecting dopamine neurons in singing zebra finches as we controlled perceived song quality with distorted auditory feedback. Dopamine activity was phasically suppressed after distorted syllables, consistent with a worse-than-predicted outcome, and was phasically activated at the precise moment of the song when a predicted distortion did not occur, consistent with a better-than-predicted outcome. Error response magnitude depended on distortion probability.Thus, dopaminergic error signals can evaluate behaviors that are not learned for reward and are instead learned by matching performance outcomes to internal goals.
The Goldberg Lab uses songbirds and mice as model systems to understand the brain mechanisms of motor learning.