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J Neurophysiol. 2006 Jan;95(1):119-33. Epub 2005 Aug 24.

Orbitofrontal ensemble activity monitors licking and distinguishes among natural rewards.

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Department of Neurobiology, Duke University Medical Center, Bryan Research Bldg., Durham, NC 27710, USA.


The classification of rhythmic licking into clusters has proved to be useful for characterizing brain mechanisms that modulate the ingestion of natural rewards (sucrose and water). One cortical area that is responsive to rewarding stimuli is the orbitofrontal cortex (OFC). However, it is not presently known how OFC neurons respond while rodents freely lick for natural rewards and whether these responses are related to the structure of licking clusters. We addressed these issues by showing that temporary inactivation of the OFC decreases the duration and increases the number of clusters and that the activity of OFC neurons changed at precise times before, during, and after the cluster terminates. Furthermore, analysis of the activity of OFC neuronal ensembles showed that they could discriminate cluster onset from termination, predict when a behaving animal will begin a cluster, and distinguish and anticipate between natural rewards. These results provide a new role for the OFC in influencing licking clusters and anticipating specific rewards.

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