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J Neurosci. 2010 Feb 17;30(7):2464-71. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.5781-09.2010.

Neural correlates of variations in event processing during learning in basolateral amygdala.

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  • 1Department of Anatomy and Neurobiology, University of Maryland School of Medicine, Baltimore, Maryland 21201, USA. mroes001@umaryland.edu


The discovery that dopamine neurons signal errors in reward prediction has demonstrated that concepts empirically derived from the study of animal behavior can be used to understand the neural implementation of reward learning. Yet the learning theory models linked to phasic dopamine activity treat attention to events such as cues and rewards as static quantities; other models, such as Pearce-Hall, propose that learning might be influenced by variations in processing of these events. A key feature of these accounts is that event processing is modulated by unsigned rather than signed reward prediction errors. Here we tested whether neural activity in rat basolateral amygdala conforms to this pattern by recording single units in a behavioral task in which rewards were unexpectedly delivered or omitted. We report that neural activity at the time of reward is providing an unsigned error signal with characteristics consistent with those postulated by these models. This neural signal increased immediately after a change in reward, and stronger firing was evident whether the value of the reward increased or decreased. Further, as predicted by these models, the change in firing developed over several trials as expectations for reward were repeatedly violated. This neural signal was correlated with faster orienting to predictive cues after changes in reward, and abolition of the signal by inactivation of basolateral amygdala disrupted this change in orienting and retarded learning in response to changes in reward. These results suggest that basolateral amygdala serves a critical function in attention for learning.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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