The contribution of the medial prefrontal cortex, orbitofrontal cortex, and dorsomedial striatum to behavioral flexibility

Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2007 Dec;1121:355-75. doi: 10.1196/annals.1401.013. Epub 2007 Aug 14.


Behavioral flexibility refers to the ability to shift strategies or response patterns with a change in environmental contingencies. The frontal lobe and basal ganglia are two brain regions implicated in various components for successfully adapting to changed environmental contingencies. This paper discusses a series of experiments that investigate the contributions of the rat prelimbic area, infralimbic area, orbitofrontal cortex, and dorsomedial striatum to behavioral flexibility. Orbitofrontal cortex inactivation did not impair initial learning of discrimination tests, but it impaired reversal learning due to perseverance in the previously learned choice pattern. Inactivation of the prelimbic area did not affect acquisition or reversal learning of different discrimination tests, but it selectively impaired learning when rats had to inhibit one strategy and shift to using a new strategy. However, comparable to orbitofrontal cortex inactivation, strategy-switching deficits following prelimbic inactivation resulted from a perseverance of the previously relevant strategy. Fewer studies have examined the infralimbic region, but there is some evidence suggesting that this region supports reversal learning by maintaining the reliable execution of a new choice pattern. Dorsomedial striatal inactivation impaired both reversal learning and strategy switching. The behavioral flexibility deficits following dorsomedial striatal inactivation resulted from the inability to maintain a new choice pattern once selected. Taken together, the results suggest that orbitofrontal and prelimbic subregions differentially contribute to behavioral flexibility, but they are both critical for the initial inhibition of a previously learned strategy, while the dorsomedial striatum plays a broader role in behavioral flexibility and supports a process that allows the reliable execution of a new strategy once selected.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal / physiology*
  • Cerebrum / physiology*