Dynamic Fluctuations in Dopamine Efflux in the Prefrontal Cortex and Nucleus Accumbens during Risk-Based Decision Making
Jennifer R. St. Onge, Soyon Ahn, Anthony G. Phillips, and Stan B. Floresco
J. Neurosci. 2012;32 16880-16891
Mesocorticolimbic dopamine (DA) has been implicated in cost/benefit decision making about risks and rewards. The prefrontal cortex (PFC) and nucleus accumbens (NAc) are two DA terminal regions that contribute to decision making in distinct manners. However, how fluctuations of tonic DA levels may relate to different aspects of decision making remains to be determined. The present study measured DA efflux in the PFC and NAc with microdialysis in well trained rats performing a probabilistic discounting task. Selection of a small/certain option always delivered one pellet, whereas another, large/risky option yielded four pellets, with probabilities that decreased (100–12.5%) or increased (12.5–100%) across four blocks of trials. Yoked-reward groups were also included to control for reward delivery. PFC DA efflux during decision making decreased or increased over a session, corresponding to changes in large/risky reward probabilities. Similar profiles were observed from yoked-rewarded rats, suggesting that fluctuations in PFC DA reflect changes in the relative rate of reward received. NAc DA efflux also showed decreasing/increasing trends over the session during both tasks. However, DA efflux was higher during decision making on free- versus forced-choice trials and during periods of greater reward uncertainty. Moreover, changes in NAc DA closely tracked shifts in choice biases. These data reveal dynamic and dissociable fluctuations in PFC and NAc DA transmission associated with different aspects of risk-based decision making. PFC DA may signal changes in reward availability that facilitates modification of choice biases, whereas NAc DA encodes integrated signals about reward rates, uncertainty, and choice, reflecting implementation of decision policies.