Changes in corticostriatal connectivity during reinforcement learning in humans.
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Many computational models assume that reinforcement learning relies on changes in synaptic efficacy between cortical regions representing stimuli and striatal regions involved in response selection, but this assumption has thus far lacked empirical support in humans. We recorded hemodynamic signals with fMRI while participants navigated a virtual maze to find hidden rewards. We fitted a reinforcement-learning algorithm to participants' choice behavior and evaluated the neural activity and the changes in functional connectivity related to trial-by-trial learning variables. Activity in the posterior putamen during choice periods increased progressively during learning. Furthermore, the functional connections between the sensorimotor cortex and the posterior putamen strengthened progressively as participants learned the task. These changes in corticostriatal connectivity differentiated participants who learned the task from those who did not. These findings provide a direct link between changes in corticostriatal connectivity and learning, thereby supporting a central assumption common to several computational models of reinforcement learning.