Reward Stability Determines the Contribution of Orbitofrontal Cortex to Adaptive Behavior
Justin S. Riceberg and Matthew L. Shapiro
J. Neurosci. 2012;32 16402-16409
Animals respond to changing contingencies to maximize reward. The orbitofrontal cortex (OFC) is important for flexible responding when established contingencies change, but the underlying cognitive mechanisms are debated. We tested rats with sham or OFC lesions in radial maze tasks that varied the frequency of contingency changes and measured both perseverative and non-perseverative errors. When contingencies were changed rarely, rats with sham lesions learned quickly and performed better than rats with OFC lesions. Rats with sham lesions made fewer non-perseverative errors, rarely entering non-rewarded arms, and more win–stay responses by returning to recently rewarded arms compared with rats with OFC lesions. When contingencies were changed rapidly, however, rats with sham lesions learned slower, made more non-perseverative errors and fewer lose–shift responses, and returned more often to non-rewarded arms than rats with OFC lesions. The results support the view that the OFC integrates reward history and suggest that the availability of outcome expectancy signals can either improve or impair adaptive responding depending on reward stability.