Contributions of basolateral amygdala and nucleus accumbens subregions to mediating motivational conflict during punished reward-seeking
The involvement of different nodes within meso-cortico-limbic-striatal circuitry in mediating reward-seeking has been well described, yet comparatively less is known about how such circuitry may regulate appetitively-motivated behaviors that may be punished. The basolateral amygdala (BLA) is one nucleus that has been implicated in suppressing punished reward-seeking, and this structure can modulate goal-directed behavior via projections to subregions of the nucleus accumbens (NAc). Here, we examined the effects of reversible inactivations of the BLA, NAc Shell (NAcS), and core (NAcC) on performance of a “Conflict” task where rats pressed a lever for sucrose reinforcement during three distinct 5 min phases. During the first and last phases of a session, rats lever-pressed for food reward delivered on a VI-15/FR5 schedule. In between these phases was a signaled “Conflict” period, where each lever-press yielded food, but 50% of presses were also punished with foot-shock. Under control conditions, well-trained rats responded vigorously during the two “safe” VI-15/FR5 periods, but reduced responding during the punished Conflict period. Inactivation of either the BLA or the NAcS via infusions of baclofen/muscimol disinhibited punished seeking, increasing lever-pressing during the conflict period, while attenuating pressing during VI-15/FR5 phases. In contrast, NAcC inactivation markedly decreased responding across all three phases. Similar inactivation of the BLA or NAcS did not alter responding in a separate control experiment where rats pressed for food on schedules identical to the Conflict task in the absence of any punishment, while NAcC inactivation again suppressed responding. These results imply that BLA and NAcS are part of a circuit that suppresses reward-seeking in the face of danger, which in turn may have implications for disorders characterized by punishment resistance, including substance abuse and obsessive–compulsive disorder.