The neurotransmitter dopamine is essential for normal reward learning and motivational arousal processes. Indeed these core functions are implicated in the major neurological and psychiatric dopamine disorders such as schizophrenia, substance abuse disorders/addiction and Parkinson's disease. Over the years, we have made significant strides in understanding the dopamine system across multiple levels of description, and I will focus on our recent advances in the computational description, and brain circuit mechanisms that facilitate the dual role of dopamine in learning and performance.
I will specifically describe our recent work with imaging the activity of dopamine axons and measurements of dopamine release in mice performing various behavioural tasks. We discovered wave-like spatiotemporal activity of dopamine in the striatal region, and I will argue that this pattern of activation supports a critical computational operation; spatiotemporal credit assignment to regional striatal subexperts. Our findings provide a mechanistic description for vectorizing reward prediction error signals relayed by dopamine.