Effects of lesions of the nucleus accumbens core on choice between small certain rewards and large uncertain rewards in rats

BMC Neurosci. 2005 May 28:6:37. doi: 10.1186/1471-2202-6-37.


Background: Animals must frequently make choices between alternative courses of action, seeking to maximize the benefit obtained. They must therefore evaluate the magnitude and the likelihood of the available outcomes. Little is known of the neural basis of this process, or what might predispose individuals to be overly conservative or to take risks excessively (avoiding or preferring uncertainty, respectively). The nucleus accumbens core (AcbC) is known to contribute to rats' ability to choose large, delayed rewards over small, immediate rewards; AcbC lesions cause impulsive choice and an impairment in learning with delayed reinforcement. However, it is not known how the AcbC contributes to choice involving probabilistic reinforcement, such as between a large, uncertain reward and a small, certain reward. We examined the effects of excitotoxic lesions of the AcbC on probabilistic choice in rats.

Results: Rats chose between a single food pellet delivered with certainty (p = 1) and four food pellets delivered with varying degrees of uncertainty (p = 1, 0.5, 0.25, 0.125, and 0.0625) in a discrete-trial task, with the large-reinforcer probability decreasing or increasing across the session. Subjects were trained on this task and then received excitotoxic or sham lesions of the AcbC before being retested. After a transient period during which AcbC-lesioned rats exhibited relative indifference between the two alternatives compared to controls, AcbC-lesioned rats came to exhibit risk-averse choice, choosing the large reinforcer less often than controls when it was uncertain, to the extent that they obtained less food as a result. Rats behaved as if indifferent between a single certain pellet and four pellets at p = 0.32 (sham-operated) or at p = 0.70 (AcbC-lesioned) by the end of testing. When the probabilities did not vary across the session, AcbC-lesioned rats and controls strongly preferred the large reinforcer when it was certain, and strongly preferred the small reinforcer when the large reinforcer was very unlikely (p = 0.0625), with no differences between AcbC-lesioned and sham-operated groups.

Conclusion: These results support the view that the AcbC contributes to action selection by promoting the choice of uncertain, as well as delayed, reinforcement.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Choice Behavior / physiology*
  • Male
  • Motor Activity / physiology
  • Nucleus Accumbens / physiology*
  • Rats
  • Reinforcement, Psychology
  • Reward*