How predictive learning influences choice: Evidence for a GPCR‐based memory process necessary for Pavlovian‐instrumental transfer

Vincent Laurent and Bernard W. Balleine

Journal of Neurochemistry

March 2021


Predictive learning endows stimuli with the capacity to signal both the sensory‐specific and general motivational properties of their associated rewards or outcomes. These two signals can be distinguished behaviorally by their influence on the selection and performance of instrumental actions, respectively. This review focuses on how sensory‐specific predictive learning guides choice between actions that earn otherwise equally desirable outcomes. We describe evidence that outcome‐specific predictive learning is encoded in the basolateral amygdala and drives the accumulation of delta‐opioid receptors on the surface of cholinergic interneurons located in the nucleus accumbens shell. This accumulation constitutes a novel form of cellular memory, not for outcome‐specific predictive learning per se but for the selection of, and choice between, future instrumental actions. We describe recent evidence regarding the cascade of events necessary for the formation and expression of this cellular memory and point to open questions for future research into this process. Beyond these mechanistic considerations, the discovery of this new form of memory is consistent with recent evidence suggesting that intracellular rather than synaptic changes can mediate learning‐related plasticity to modify brain circuitry to prepare for future significant events.