Medial Orbitofrontal Cortex Modulates Associative Learning Between Environmental Cues and Reward Probability

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It has recently been recognized that orbitofrontal cortex has 2 subdivisions that are anatomically and functionally distinct. Most rodent research has focused on the lateral subdivision, leaving the medial subdivision (mOFC) relatively unexplored. We recently showed that inhibiting mOFC neurons eliminated the differential impact of reward probability cues on discrimination accuracy in a sustained attention task. In the present study, we tested whether increasing mOFC neuronal activity in rats would accelerate acquisition of reward contingencies. mOFC neuronal activity was increased using the DREADD (Designer Receptors Exclusively Activated by Designer Drugs) method, in which clozapine-N-oxide administration leads to neuronal modulation by acting on synthetic receptors not normally expressed in the rat brain. We predicted that rats with neuronal activation in mOFC would require fewer sessions than controls for acquisition of a task in which visual cues signal the probability of reward for correct discrimination performance. Contrary to this prediction, mOFC neuronal activation impaired task acquisition, suggesting mOFC may play a role in learning relationships between environmental cues and reward probability or for using that information in adaptive decision-making. In addition, disrupted mOFC activity may contribute to psychiatric conditions in which learning associations between environmental cues and reward probability is impaired.

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