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Front Behav Neurosci. 2015 Oct 6;9:266. doi: 10.3389/fnbeh.2015.00266. eCollection 2015.

Neural correlates of rules and conflict in medial prefrontal cortex during decision and feedback epochs.

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Department of Psychology, University of Maryland, College Park College Park, MD, USA ; Program in Neuroscience and Cognitive Science, University of Maryland, College Park College Park, MD, USA.


The ability to properly adjust behavioral responses to cues in a changing environment is crucial for survival. Activity in the medial Prefrontal Cortex (mPFC) is thought to both represent rules to guide behavior as well as detect and resolve conflicts between rules in changing contingencies. However, while lesion and pharmacological studies have supported a crucial role for mPFC in this type of set-shifting, an understanding of how mPFC represents current rules or detects and resolves conflict between different rules is unclear. Here, we directly address the role of rat mPFC in shifting rule based behavioral strategies using a novel behavioral task designed to tease apart neural signatures of rules, conflict and direction. We demonstrate that activity of single neurons in rat mPFC represent distinct rules. Further, we show increased firing on high conflict trials in a separate population of mPFC neurons. Reduced firing in both populations of neurons was associated with poor performance. Moreover, activity in both populations increased and decreased firing during the outcome epoch when reward was and was not delivered on correct and incorrect trials, respectively. In addition, outcome firing was modulated by the current rule and the degree of conflict associated with the previous decision. These results promote a greater understanding of the role that mPFC plays in switching between rules, signaling both rule and conflict to promote improved behavioral performance.


conflict; in vivo electrophysiology; mPFC; rule encoding; set-shifting

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