Behavioral flexibility in rats and mice: contributions of distinct frontocortical regions

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Abstract

Research examining the contribution of genetics to behavior is increasingly focused on higher order behavioral and cognitive processes including the ability to modify behaviors when environmental demands change. The frontal cortices of mammals, including rodents, subserve a diverse set of behavioral and cognitive functions including motor planning, social behavior, evaluation of expected outcomes and working memory, which may be particularly sensitive to genetic factors and interactions with experience (e.g. stress). Behavioral flexibility is a core attribute of these functions. This review orients readers to the current landscape of the literature on the frontocortical bases of behavioral flexibility in rodent laboratory experiments. Studies are divided into three broad categories: reversal learning, inhibitory learning and set-shifting. Functional dissociations within the broader scope of behavioral flexibility are reviewed, followed by discussion of the associations between specific components of frontal cortex and specific aspects of relevant behavioral processes. Finally, the authors identify open questions that need to be addressed to better establish the constituents of frontal cortex underlying behavioral flexibility.

Reversal learning, inhibitory learning and extradimensional set shifting have been extensively used to investigate the frontocortical bases of behavioral flexibility. This article reviews the current literature linking behavioral flexibility in these tasks to distinct subregions of frontal cortex in rats and mice.

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