Nina T. Lichtenberg, Zachary T. Pennington, Sandra M. Holley, Venuz Y. Greenfield, Carlos Cepeda, Michael S. Levine and Kate M. Wassum
Journal of Neuroscience 30 August 2017, 37 (35) 8374-8384; DOI: https://doi.org/10.1523/JNEUROSCI.0486-17.2017
To make an appropriate decision, one must anticipate potential future rewarding events, even when they are not readily observable. These expectations are generated by using observable information (e.g., stimuli or available actions) to retrieve often quite detailed memories of available rewards. The basolateral amygdala (BLA) and orbitofrontal cortex (OFC) are two reciprocally connected key nodes in the circuitry supporting such outcome-guided behaviors. But there is much unknown about the contribution of this circuit to decision making, and almost nothing known about the whether any contribution is via direct, monosynaptic projections, or the direction of information transfer. Therefore, here we used designer receptor-mediated inactivation of OFC→BLA or BLA→OFC projections to evaluate their respective contributions to outcome-guided behaviors in rats. Inactivation of BLA terminals in the OFC, but not OFC terminals in the BLA, disrupted the selective motivating influence of cue-triggered reward representations over reward-seeking decisions as assayed by Pavlovian-to-instrumental transfer. BLA→OFC projections were also required when a cued reward representation was used to modify Pavlovian conditional goal-approach responses according to the reward's current value. These projections were not necessary when actions were guided by reward expectations generated based on learned action-reward contingencies, or when rewards themselves, rather than stored memories, directed action. These data demonstrate that BLA→OFC projections enable the cue-triggered reward expectations that can motivate the execution of specific action plans and allow adaptive conditional responding.