Anticipating rewards has been shown to enhance memory formation. Although substantial evidence implicates dopamine in this behavioral effect, the precise mechanisms remain ambiguous. Because dopamine nuclei have been associated with two distinct physiological signatures of reward prediction, we hypothesized two dissociable effects on memory formation. These two signatures are a phasic dopamine response immediately following a reward cue that encodes its expected value and a sustained, ramping response that has been demonstrated during high reward uncertainty [Fiorillo, C. D., Tobler, P. N., & Schultz, W. Discrete coding of reward probability and uncertainty by dopamine neurons. Science, 299, 1898–1902, 2003]. Here, we show in humans that the impact of reward anticipation on memory for an event depends on its timing relative to these physiological signatures. By manipulating reward probability (100%, 50%, or 0%) and the timing of the event to be encoded (just after the reward cue versus just before expected reward outcome), we demonstrated the predicted double dissociation: Early during reward anticipation, memory formation was improved by increased expected reward value, whereas late during reward anticipation, memory formation was enhanced by reward uncertainty. Notably, although the memory benefits of high expected reward in the early interval were consolidation dependent, the memory benefits of high uncertainty in the later interval were not. These findings support the view that expected reward benefits memory consolidation via phasic dopamine release. The novel finding of a distinct memory enhancement, temporally consistent with sustained anticipatory dopamine release, points toward new mechanisms of memory modulation by reward now ripe for further investigation.

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