Nucleus accumbens core lesions induce sub-optimal choice and reduce sensitivity to magnitude and delay in impulsive choice tasks

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The nucleus accumbens core (NAc) has long been recognized as an important contributor to the computation of reward value that is critical for impulsive choice behavior. Impulsive choice refers to choosing a smaller-sooner (SS) over a larger-later (LL) reward when the LL is more optimal in terms of the rate of reward delivery. Two experiments examined the role of the NAc in impulsive choice and its component processes of delay and magnitude processing. Experiment 1 delivered an impulsive choice task with manipulations of LL reward magnitude, followed by a reward magnitude discrimination task. Experiment 2 tested impulsive choice under manipulations of LL delay, followed by temporal bisection and progressive interval tasks. NAc lesions, in comparison to sham control lesions, produced suboptimal preferences that resulted in lower reward earning rates, and led to reduced sensitivity to magnitude and delay within the impulsive choice task. The secondary tasks revealed intact reward magnitude and delay discrimination abilities, but the lesion rats persisted in responding more as the progressive interval increased during the session. The results suggest that the NAc is most critical for demonstrating good sensitivity to magnitude and delay, and adjusting behavior accordingly. Ultimately, the NAc lesions induced suboptimal choice behavior rather than simply promoting impulsive choice, suggesting that an intact NAc is necessary for optimal decision making.

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