Neuro-computational models allow to study the brain mechanisms involved in intelligent behavior and extract essential computational principles which can be implemented in cognitive systems. They are a promising solution to achieve a brain-like artificial intelligence that can compete with natural intelligence on realistic behaviors. A crucial property of intelligent behavior is motivation, defined as the incentive to interact with the world in order to achieve specific goals, either extrinsic (obtaining rewards such as food or money, or avoiding pain) or intrinsic (satisfying one’s curiosity, fun). In the human brain, motivated or goal-directed behavior depends on a network of different structures, including the prefrontal cortex, the basal ganglia and the limbic system. Dopamine, a neuro-transmitter associated with reward processing, plays a central role in coordinating the activity of this network. It structures processing in high-level cognitive areas along a limbic-associative-motor gradient and impacts the learning capabilities of the whole system. In this habilitation thesis, I present biologically-constrained neuro-computational models which investigate the role of dopamine in visual object categorization and memory retrieval (Vitay and Hamker, 2008), reinforcement learning and action selection (Vitay and Hamker, 2010), the updating, learning and maintenance of working memory (Schroll, Vitay and Hamker, 2012) and timing processes (Vitay and Hamker, 2014). These models outline the many mechanisms by which the dopaminergic system regulates cognitive and emotional behavior: bistable processing modes in the cerebral cortex, modulation of synaptic transmission and plasticity, allocation of cognitive resources and signaling of relevant events. Finally, I present a neural simulator able to simulate a variety of neuro-computational models efficiently on parallel architectures (Vitay, Dinkelbach and Hamker, 2015).