Functional magnetic resonance imaging of reward prediction

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Purpose of review

Technical and conceptual advances in functional magnetic resonance imaging now allow visualization of real-time changes in oxygenation of deep subcortical regions, leading to rapid advances in scientific characterization of the neural substrates that underlie reward prediction in humans.

Recent findings

Neuroimaging research over the past year has focused on determining the necessary neural substrates for reward prediction.


While the orbitofrontal cortex has long been implicated in modality-specific reward representation, the ventral striatum (particularly the nucleus accumbens) may play a role in modality-independent representations of predicted reward. On the other hand, the mesial prefrontal cortex appears to play a role in representing reward prediction error and the dorsal caudate in linking reward to behavior. Theoretically, future studies will need to establish the specificity of these responses to reward versus punishment and anticipation versus outcome. Clinically, current findings suggest that patients can predict reward without a prefrontal cortex, but should experience difficulty correcting their behavior when reward predictions are violated.

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