Orbitofrontal neurons signal reward predictions, not reward prediction errors

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Abstract

Neurons in the orbitofrontal cortex (OFC) fire in anticipation of and during rewards. Such firing has been suggested to encode reward predictions and to account in some way for the role of this area in adaptive behavior and learning. However, it has also been reported that neural activity in OFC reflects reward prediction errors, which might drive learning directly. Here we tested this question by analyzing the firing of OFC neurons recorded in an odor discrimination task in which rats were trained to sample odor cues and respond left or right on each trial for reward. Neurons were recorded across blocks of trials in which we switched either the number or the flavor of the reward delivered in each well. Previously we have described how neurons in this dataset fired to the predictive cues (Stalnaker et al., 2014); here we focused on the firing in anticipation of and just after delivery of each drop of reward, looking specifically for differences in firing based on whether the reward number or flavor was unexpected or expected. Unlike dopamine neurons recorded in this setting, which exhibited phasic error-like responses after surprising changes in either reward number or reward flavor (Takahashi et al., 2017), OFC neurons showed no such error correlates and instead fired in a way that reflected reward predictions.

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