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Pleasure and pain
Pleasure-Seeking Behaviour
Pleasure and Drugs
Avoiding Pain

Just beside the ventral tegmental area is another part of the brain that contains a great deal of dopamine: the substantia nigra. The dopaminergic neurons of the substantia nigra project their axons into the corpus striatum, a region associated with the control of movement.

Essentially all of the dopamine that modulates brain activity comes from the ventral tegmental area and the substantia nigra.


When the cortex has received and processed a sensory stimulus indicating a reward, it sends a signal announcing this reward to a particular part of the midbrain–the ventral tegmental area (VTA)–whose activity then increases. The VTA then releases dopamine not only into the nucleus accumbens, but also into the septum, the amygdala, and the prefrontal cortex.

The nucleus accumbens then activates the individual’s motor functions, while the prefrontal cortex focuses his or her attention.

These regions are connected by what is called the pleasure or reward bundle. In neuroanatomical terms, this bundle is part of the medial forebrain bundle (MFB), whose activation leads to the repetition of the gratifying action to strengthen the associated pathways in the brain.

First described by James Olds and Peter Milner in the early 1960s, the MFB is a bundle of axons that originates in the reticular formation, crosses the ventral tegmental area, passes through the lateral hypothalamus, and continues into the nucleus accumbens as well as the amygdala, the septum, and the prefrontal cortex.

The MFB is composed of ascending and descending pathways, including most of the pathways that use monoamines as a neurotransmitter. The mesocorticolimbic dopaminergic system is one of its main components.

Consequently, the reward circuit and the punishment circuit can be said to supply most of the necessary motivation for most of our behaviours.

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