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PLoS One. 2012;7(4):e33302. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0033302. Epub 2012 Apr 4.

The role of the rat medial prefrontal cortex in adapting to changes in instrumental contingency.

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  • 1Institut de Neurosciences Cognitives et Int√©gratives d'Aquitaine (INCIA), Universit√© de Bordeaux, Talence, France.


In order to select actions appropriate to current needs, a subject must identify relationships between actions and events. Control over the environment is determined by the degree to which action consequences can be predicted, as described by action-outcome contingencies--i.e. performing an action should affect the probability of the outcome. We evaluated in a first experiment adaptation to contingency changes in rats with neurotoxic lesions of the medial prefrontal cortex. Results indicate that this brain region is not critical to adjust instrumental responding to a negative contingency where the rats must refrain from pressing a lever, as this action prevents reward delivery. By contrast, this brain region is required to reduce responding in a non-contingent situation where the same number of rewards is freely delivered and actions do not affect the outcome any more. In a second experiment, we determined that this effect does not result from a different perception of temporal relationships between actions and outcomes since lesioned rats adapted normally to gradually increasing delays in reward delivery. These data indicate that the medial prefrontal cortex is not directly involved in evaluating the correlation between action--and reward--rates or in the perception of reward delays. The deficit in lesioned rats appears to consist of an abnormal response to the balance between contingent and non-contingent rewards. By highlighting the role of prefrontal regions in adapting to the causal status of actions, these data contribute to our understanding of the neural basis of choice tasks.

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