Peters J, D'Esposito M
Curr Biol. 2016 Oct 10;26(19):2625-2628. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2016.07.035.
Many decisions involve a trade-off between the temporal proximity of a reward and its magnitude. A range of clinical conditions are associated with poor self-control during such intertemporal choices, such that smaller rewards that are received sooner are preferred over larger rewards that are received later to a greater extent [1, 2]. According to a prominent neural model of self-control [3-6], subjective reward values are represented in the medial orbitofrontal cortex (mOFC) at the time of choice [7-9]. Successful self-control in this model is then thought to depend on a modulation of these mOFC value representations via the lateral prefrontal cortex (lPFC) [3, 6]. Here we directly tested three key predictions of this model in patients with lesions to the mOFC (n = 9) and matched controls (n = 19). First, we show that mOFC lesions disrupt choice-free valuation ratings. This finding provides causal evidence for a role of the mOFC in reward valuation and contrasts with the effects of lPFC disruption . Second, we show that mOFC damage indeed decreases self-control during intertemporal choice, replicating previous findings . Third, extending these previous observations, we show that the effect of mOFC damage on intertemporal choice depends on the actual self-control demands of the task. Our findings thus provide causal evidence for a role of mOFC in reward valuation and are compatible with the idea that mOFC damage affects self-control specifically under conditions that might normally require a modulation of mOFC value representations, e.g., by the lPFC.