Dopamine neurons signal reward prediction errors. This requires accurate reward predictions. It has been suggested that the ventral striatum provides these predictions. Here we tested this hypothesis by recording from putative dopamine neurons in the VTA of rats performing a task in which prediction errors were induced by shifting reward timing or number. In controls, the neurons exhibited error signals in response to both manipulations. However, dopamine neurons in rats with ipsilateral ventral striatal lesions exhibited errors only to changes in number and failed to respond to changes in timing of reward. These results, supported by computational modeling, indicate that predictions about the temporal specificity and the number of expected reward are dissociable and that dopaminergic prediction-error signals rely on the ventral striatum for the former but not the latter.
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