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J Neurosci. 2007 Mar 28;27(13):3548-59.

Adaptation of prefrontal cortical firing patterns and their fidelity to changes in action-reward contingencies.

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  • 1The Neurosciences Institute, San Diego, California 92121, USA.


Animals adapt action-selection policies when the relationship between possible actions and associated outcomes changes. Prefrontal cortical neurons vary their discharge patterns depending on action choice and rewards received and undoubtedly play a pivotal role in maintaining and adapting action policies. Here, we recorded neurons from the medial precentral subregion of mouse prefrontal cortex to examine neural substrates of goal-directed behavior. Discharge patterns were recorded after animals developed stable action-selection policies, wherein four possible action sequences were invariably related to different reward magnitudes and during adaptation to changes in the action-reward contingencies. During the adaptation period, when the same action sequence resulted in different reward magnitudes, many neurons (38%) exhibited significantly different discharge patterns for identical action sequences, well before reaching the reward site. In addition, trial-to-trial reliability of ensemble pattern production leading up to reward was found to vary both positively and negatively with increases and decreases in reward magnitude, respectively. Pairwise analyses of simultaneously recorded neurons revealed that decreased reliability in part reflected fluctuations between different ensemble activity patterns as opposed to within-pattern variability. Increases in reliability were related to an increased probability of both selecting highly rewarding actions and completing such actions without pause or reversal, whereas decreases in reliability were associated with the opposite pattern. Thus, we suggest that both the spatiotemporal pattern and fidelity of prefrontal cortical discharge are impacted by action-outcome relationships and that each of these features serve to adapt action choices and maintain behaviors leading to reward.

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