The Journal of Neuroscience, December 15, 2010 30(50):16868-1687
Ami Tsuchida, Bradley B. Doll, and Lesley K. Fellows
Damage to the orbitofrontal cortex (OFC) has been linked to impaired reinforcement processing andmaladaptive behavior in changing environments across species. Flexible stimulus-outcome learning, canonically captured by reversal learning tasks, has been shown to rely critically on OFC in rats, monkeys, and humans. However, the precise role of OFC in this learning remains unclear. Furthermore, whether other frontal regions also contribute hasnot beendefinitively established, particularly inhumans. Inthe present study, a reversal learning task with probabilistic feedback was administered to 39 patients with focal lesions affecting various sectors of the frontal lobes and to 51 healthy, demographically matched control subjects. Standard groupwise comparisons were supplemented with voxel-based lesion-symptom mapping to identify regions within the frontal lobes critical for task performance. Learning in this dynamic stimulusreinforcement environment was considered both in terms of overall performance and at the trial-by-trial level. In this challenging, probabilistic context, OFC damage disrupted both initial and reversal learning. Trial-by-trial performance patterns suggest that OFC plays a critical role in interpreting feedback froma particular trial within the broader context of the outcome history across trials rather than in simply suppressing preexisting stimulus-outcome associations. The findings show that OFC, and not other prefrontal regions, plays a necessary role in flexible stimulus-reinforcement learning in humans.