Reward loss and the basolateral amygdala: A function in reward comparisons

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The neural circuitry underlying behavior in reward loss situations is poorly understood. We considered two such situations: reward devaluation (from large to small rewards) and reward omission (from large rewards to no rewards). There is evidence that the central nucleus of the amygdala (CeA) plays a role in the negative emotion accompanying reward loss. However, little is known about the function of the basolateral nucleus (BLA) in reward loss. Two hypotheses of BLA function in reward loss, negative emotion and reward comparisons, were tested in an experiment involving pretraining excitotoxic BLA lesions followed by training in four tasks: consummatory successive negative contrast (cSNC), autoshaping (AS) acquisition and extinction, anticipatory negative contrast (ANC), and open field testing (OF). Cell counts in the BLA (but not in the CeA) were significantly lower in animals with lesions vs. shams. BLA lesions eliminated cSNC and ANC, and accelerated extinction of lever pressing in AS. BLA lesions had no effect on OF testing: higher activity in the periphery than in the central area. This pattern of results provides support for the hypothesis that BLA neurons are important for reward comparison. The three affected tasks (cSNC, ANC, and AS extinction) involve reward comparisons. However, ANC does not seem to involve negative emotions and it was affected, whereas OF activity is known to involve negative emotion, but it was not affected. It is hypothesized that a circuit involving the thalamus, insular cortex, and BLA is critically involved in the mechanism comparing current and expected rewards.

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