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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2015 Jul 28;112(30):9472-7. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1507611112. Epub 2015 Jul 13.

Prefrontal neurons encode context-based response execution and inhibition in reward seeking and extinction.

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Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences and Neuroscience and Behavior Graduate Program, University of Massachusetts Amherst, Amherst, MA 01003;
Brain Health Institute, Rutgers University, Piscataway, NJ 08854.


The prefrontal cortex (PFC) guides execution and inhibition of behavior based on contextual demands. In rodents, the dorsal/prelimbic (PL) medial PFC (mPFC) is frequently considered essential for execution of goal-directed behavior ("go") whereas ventral/infralimbic (IL) mPFC is thought to control behavioral suppression ("stop"). This dichotomy is commonly seen for fear-related behaviors, and for some behaviors related to cocaine seeking. Overall, however, data for reward-directed behaviors are ambiguous, and few recordings of PL/IL activity have been performed to demonstrate single-neuron correlates. We recorded neuronal activity in PL and IL during discriminative stimulus driven sucrose seeking followed by multiple days of extinction of the reward-predicting stimulus. Contrary to a generalized PL-go/IL-stop hypothesis, we found cue-evoked activity in PL and IL during reward seeking and extinction. Upon analyzing this activity based on resultant behavior (lever press or withhold), we found that neurons in both areas encoded contextually appropriate behavioral initiation (during reward seeking) and withholding (during extinction), where context was dictated by response-outcome contingencies. Our results demonstrate that PL and IL signal contextual information for regulation of behavior, irrespective of whether that involves initiation or suppression of behavioral responses, rather than topographically encoding go vs. stop behaviors. The use of context to optimize behavior likely plays an important role in maximizing utility-promoting exertion of activity when behaviors are rewarded and conservation of energy when not.


contingency; electrophysiology; extracellular; instrumental; rat

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