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Front Integr Neurosci. 2009 Feb 5;3:1. doi: 10.3389/neuro.07.001.2009. eCollection 2009.

Covert Expectation-of-Reward in Rat Ventral Striatum at Decision Points.

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Department of Neuroscience, University of Minnesota Minneapolis, MN, USA.


Flexible decision-making strategies (such as planning) are a key component of adaptive behavior, yet their neural mechanisms have remained resistant to experimental analysis. Theories of planning require prediction and evaluation of potential future rewards, suggesting that reward signals may covertly appear at decision points. To test this idea, we recorded ensembles of ventral striatal neurons on a spatial decision task, in which hippocampal ensembles are known to represent future possibilities at decision points. We found representations of reward which were not only activated at actual reward delivery sites, but also at a high-cost choice point and before error correction. This expectation-of-reward signal at decision points was apparent at both the single cell and the ensemble level, and vanished with behavioral automation. We conclude that ventral striatal representations of reward are more dynamic than suggested by previous reports of reward- and cue-responsive cells, and may provide the necessary signal for evaluation of internally generated possibilities considered during flexible decision-making.


decision-making; ensemble decoding; nucleus accumbens; reward; ventral striatum

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