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J Neurosci. 2011 Feb 9;31(6):2197-204. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.5597-10.2011.

Lesions of the basolateral amygdala and orbitofrontal cortex differentially affect acquisition and performance of a rodent gambling task.

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Department of Psychology, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, British Columbia V6T 1Z4, Canada.


Risky decision making on the Iowa Gambling Task (IGT) has been observed in several psychiatric disorders, including substance abuse, schizophrenia, and pathological gambling. Such deficits are often attributed to impaired processing within the orbitofrontal cortex (OFC) because patients with damage to this area or to the amygdala, which is strongly interconnected with the OFC, can likewise show enhanced choice of high-risk options. However, whether damage to the OFC or amygdala impairs subjects' ability to learn the task, or actually affects the decision-making process itself, is currently unclear. To address these issues, rats were trained to perform a rodent gambling task (rGT) either before or after bilateral excitotoxic lesions to the basolateral amygdala (BLA) or OFC. Maximum profits in both the rGT and IGT are obtained by favoring smaller rewards associated with lower penalties, and avoiding the tempting, yet ultimately disadvantageous, large reward options. Lesions of the OFC or BLA made before task acquisition initially impaired animals' ability to determine the optimal strategy, but did not disrupt decision making in the long term. In contrast, lesions of the BLA, but not the OFC, made after the task had been acquired increased risky choice. These results suggest that, although both regions contribute to the development of appropriate choice behavior under risk, the BLA maintains a more fundamental role in guiding these decisions. The maladaptive choice pattern observed on the IGT in patients with OFC lesions could therefore partially reflect a learning deficit, whereas amygdala damage may give rise to a more robust decision-making impairment.

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