We compared the nucleus accumbens (NAc) transcriptomes of generation 8 (G8), 34-day-old rats selectively bred for low (LVR) versus high voluntary running (HVR) behaviours in rats that never ran (LVRnon-run and HVRnon-run), as well as in rats after 6 days of voluntary wheel running (LVRrun and HVRrun). In addition, the NAc transcriptome of wild-type Wistar rats was compared. The purpose of this transcriptomics approach was to generate testable hypotheses as to possible NAc features that may be contributing to running motivation differences between lines. Ingenuity Pathway Analysis and Gene Ontology analyses suggested that ‘cell cycle′-related transcripts and the running-induced plasticity of dopamine-related transcripts were lower in LVR versus HVR rats. From these data, a hypothesis was generated that LVR rats might have less NAc neuron maturation than HVR rats. Follow-up immunohistochemistry in G9–10 LVRnon-run rats suggested that the LVR line inherently possessed fewer mature medium spiny (Darpp-32-positive) neurons (P < 0.001) and fewer immature (Dcx-positive) neurons (P < 0.001) than their G9–10 HVR counterparts. However, voluntary running wheel access in our G9–10 LVRs uniquely increased their Darpp-32-positive and Dcx-positive neuron densities. In summary, NAc cellularity differences and/or the lack of running-induced plasticity in dopamine signalling-related transcripts may contribute to low voluntary running motivation in LVR rats.