Functional Disconnection of the Orbitofrontal Cortex and Basolateral Amygdala Impairs Acquisition of a Rat Gambling Task and Disrupts Animals' Ability to Alter Decision-Making Behavior after Reinforcer Devaluation
Fiona D. Zeeb and Catharine A. Winstanley
J. Neurosci. 2013;33 6434-6443
An inability to adjust choice preferences in response to changes in reward value may underlie key symptoms of many psychiatric disorders, including chemical and behavioral addictions. We developed the rat gambling task (rGT) to investigate the neurobiology underlying complex decision-making processes. As in the Iowa Gambling task, the optimal strategy is to avoid choosing larger, riskier rewards and to instead favor options associated with smaller rewards but less loss and, ultimately, greater long-term gain. Given the demonstrated importance of the orbitofrontal cortex (OFC) and basolateral amygdala (BLA) in acquisition of the rGT and Iowa Gambling task, we used a contralateral disconnection lesion procedure to assess whether functional connectivity between these regions is necessary for optimal decision-making. Disrupting the OFC-BLA pathway retarded acquisition of the rGT. Devaluing the reinforcer by inducing sensory-specific satiety altered decision-making in control groups. In contrast, disconnected rats did not update their choice preference following reward devaluation, either when the devalued reward was still delivered or when animals needed to rely on stored representations of reward value (i.e., during extinction). However, all rats exhibited decreased premature responding and slower response latencies after satiety manipulations. Hence, disconnecting the OFC and BLA did not affect general behavioral changes caused by reduced motivation, but instead prevented alterations in the value of a specific reward from contributing appropriately to cost-benefit decision-making. These results highlight the role of the OFC-BLA pathway in the decision-making process and suggest that communication between these areas is vital for the appropriate assessment of reward value to influence choice.