Alberto Del Arco, Junchol Park, Jesse Wood, Yunbok Kim and Bita Moghaddam
Journal of Neuroscience 30 August 2017, 37 (35) 8363-8373; DOI: https://doi.org/10.1523/JNEUROSCI.0450-17.2017
The prefrontal cortex (PFC) is thought to play a critical role in behavioral flexibility by monitoring action–outcome contingencies. How PFC ensembles represent shifts in behavior in response to changes in these contingencies remains unclear. We recorded single-unit activity and local field potentials in the dorsomedial PFC (dmPFC) of male rats during a set-shifting task that required them to update their behavior, among competing options, in response to changes in action–outcome contingencies. As behavior was updated, a subset of PFC ensembles encoded the current trial outcome before the outcome was presented. This novel outcome-prediction encoding was absent in a control task, in which actions were rewarded pseudorandomly, indicating that PFC neurons are not merely providing an expectancy signal. In both control and set-shifting tasks, dmPFC neurons displayed postoutcome discrimination activity, indicating that these neurons also monitor whether a behavior is successful in generating rewards. Gamma-power oscillatory activity increased before the outcome in both tasks but did not differentiate between expected outcomes, suggesting that this measure is not related to set-shifting behavior but reflects expectation of an outcome after action execution. These results demonstrate that PFC neurons support flexible rule-based action selection by predicting outcomes that follow a particular action.