Competitor suppresses neuronal representation of food reward in the nucleus accumbens/medial striatum of domestic chicks

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To investigate the role of social contexts in controlling the neuronal representation of food reward, we recorded single neuron activity in the medial striatum/nucleus accumbens of domestic chicks and examined whether activities differed between two blocks with different contexts. Chicks were trained in an operant task to associate light-emitting diode color cues with three trial types that differed in the type of food reward: no reward (S−), a small reward/short-delay option (SS), and a large reward/long-delay alternative (LL). Amount and duration of reward were set such that both of SS and LL were chosen roughly equally. Neurons showing distinct cue-period activity in rewarding trials (SS and LL) were identified during an isolation block, and activity patterns were compared with those recorded from the same neuron during a subsequent pseudo-competition block in which another chick was allowed to forage in the same area, but was separated by a transparent window. In some neurons, cue-period activity was lower in the pseudo-competition block, and the difference was not ascribed to the number of repeated trials. Comparison at neuronal population level revealed statistically significant suppression in the pseudo-competition block in both SS and LL trials, suggesting that perceived competition generally suppressed the representation of cue-associated food reward. The delay- and reward-period activities, however, did not significantly different between blocks. These results demonstrate that visual perception of a competitive forager per se weakens the neuronal representation of predicted food reward. Possible functional links to impulse control are discussed.

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