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J Neurophysiol. 2003 Sep;90(3):1766-89. Epub 2003 Jun 11.

Impact of expected reward on neuronal activity in prefrontal cortex, frontal and supplementary eye fields and premotor cortex.

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Center for the Neural Basis of Cognition, Mellon Institute, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 15213-2683, USA.


In several regions of the macaque brain, neurons fire during delayed response tasks at a rate determined by the value of the reward expected at the end of the trial. The activity of these neurons might be related either to the internal representation of the appetitive value of the expected reward or to motivation-dependent variations in the monkey's level of motor preparation or motor output. According to the first interpretation, reward-related activity should be most prominent in areas affiliated with the limbic system. According to the second interpretation, it should be most prominent in areas affiliated with the motor system. To distinguish between these alternatives, we carried out single-neuron recording while monkeys performed a memory-guided saccade task in which a visual cue presented early in each trial indicated whether the reward would be large or small. Neuronal activity accompanying task performance was monitored in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (PFC), the frontal eye field (FEF), a transitional zone caudal to the frontal eye field (FEF/PM), premotor cortex (PM), the supplementary eye field (SEF), and the rostral part of the supplementary motor area (SMAr). The tendency for neuronal activity to increase after cues that predicted a large reward became progressively stronger in progressively more posterior areas both in the lateral sector of the frontal lobe (PFC < FEF < FEF/PM < PM) and in the medial sector (SEF < SMAr). The very strong reward-related activity of premotor neurons was presumably attributable to the monkey's motivation-dependent level of motor preparation or motor output. This finding points to the need to determine whether reward-related activity in other nonlimbic brain areas, including dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and the dorsal striatum, genuinely represents the value of the expected reward or, alternatively, is related to motivational modulation of motor signals.

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