Scientists Say: Ventral striatum | Science News for Students

Scientists Say: Ventral striatum

This area of the brain influences motivation, reward and more
Jul 30, 2018 — 6:30 am EST

Different areas of the brain do different things. The ventral striatum — located deep inside in the brain — plays roles in mood, addiction and learning.


Ventral striatum (noun, “VEN-trahl St-EYE-ay-tum”)

This is an area of the brain that sits in the center, just above and behind your ears. It’s actually a conglomeration of several brain areas together. It includes an area called the nucleus accumbens, part of an area called the caudate, part of another area called the putamen and a brain area called the olfactory tubercle.

These brain areas get grouped together because they all play a role in how people make decisions and respond to rewards. The ventral striatum helps someone determine that a pizza is rewarding, and that they want more of it. It also plays a role in motivation — whether we want to try something. That means that the ventral striatum is important in things like mood, learning and addiction.

To do its job, the ventral striatum relies heavily on dopamine. This is a molecule that acts as a messenger between brain cells. Dopamine signals rise in the ventral striatum in response to things that are rewarding or worth paying attention to. They fall when we expect a reward — and don’t get it.

In a sentence

The ventral striatum reaches adulthood faster than the rest of the brain, which can change how a teen makes decisions.

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Power Words

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cell     The smallest structural and functional unit of an organism. Typically too small to see with the unaided eye, it consists of a watery fluid surrounded by a membrane or wall. Depending on their size, animals are made of anywhere from thousands to trillions of cells. Most organisms, such as yeasts, molds, bacteria and some algae, are composed of only one cell.

caudate  This is a part of the brain that sits in the center, behind your eyebrows and over an important relay center called the thalamus. The caudate plays an important role in how we control our movements, and also controls attention, mood, motivation and feelings of reward.

dopamine     A neurotransmitter, this chemical helps transmit signals in the brain.

molecule     An electrically neutral group of atoms that represents the smallest possible amount of a chemical compound. Molecules can be made of single types of atoms or of different types. For example, the oxygen in the air is made of two oxygen atoms (O2), but water is made of two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom (H2O).

nucleus accumbens     An area deep within the front part of the brain that is linked to pleasure and motivation.

olfactory tubercle  This is a small area right at the base of the brain, roughly behind the nose. It’s a processing center that brings information from different brain areas together and sends it on its way. “Olfactory” refers to smell, and the olfactory tubercle does bring in information from the nose, but it also takes in information from visual system and auditory system. The olfactory tubercle is very important in attention, motion and how we respond to social situations. It is part of a larger group called the ventral striatum.

putamen  This is a round, curled structure in the brain that sits in the center, over an important relay center called the thalamus. The putamen helps control our movements, and also plays an important role in learning.

reward     (In animal behavior) A stimulus, such as a tasty food pellet, that is offered to an animal or person to get them to change their behavior or to learn a task.

tubercle     A tiny knobby projection — a prominent bump — that occurs naturally on some part of a plant or animal. It might be a protruding nodule on a bone or the surface of the skin, for instance.

ventral striatum     A region deep inside the brain known as the brain’s reward center.