Prefrontal cortical contribution to risk-based decision making

Cereb Cortex. 2010 Aug;20(8):1816-28. doi: 10.1093/cercor/bhp250. Epub 2009 Nov 5.


Damage to various regions of the prefrontal cortex (PFC) impairs decision making involving evaluations about risks and rewards. However, the specific contributions that different PFC subregions make to risk-based decision making are unclear. We investigated the effects of reversible inactivation of 4 subregions of the rat PFC (prelimbic medial PFC, orbitofrontal cortex [OFC], anterior cingulate, and insular cortex) on probabilistic (or risk) discounting. Rats were well trained to choose between either a "Small/Certain" lever that always delivered 1 food pellet, or another, "Large/Risky" lever, which delivered 4 pellets, but the probability of receiving reward decreased across 4 trial blocks (100%, 50%, 25%, and 12.5%). Infusions of gama-aminobutyric acid agonists muscimol/baclofen into the medial PFC increased risky choice. However, similar medial PFC inactivations decreased risky choice when the Large/Risky reward probability increased over a session. OFC inactivation increased response latencies in the latter trial blocks without affecting choice. Anterior cingulate or insular inactivations were without effect. The effects of prelimbic inactivations were not attributable to disruptions in response flexibility or judgments about the relative value of probabilistic rewards. Thus, the prelimbic, but not other PFC regions, plays a critical role in risk discounting, integrating information about changing reward probabilities to update value representations that facilitate efficient decision making.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal / physiology
  • Cerebral Cortex / drug effects
  • Cerebral Cortex / physiology
  • Cognition / physiology
  • Decision Making / drug effects
  • Decision Making / physiology*
  • Executive Function / physiology
  • GABA Agonists / pharmacology
  • Gyrus Cinguli / drug effects
  • Gyrus Cinguli / physiology
  • Male
  • Prefrontal Cortex / anatomy & histology
  • Prefrontal Cortex / drug effects
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiology*
  • Rats
  • Rats, Long-Evans
  • Reaction Time / drug effects
  • Reaction Time / physiology
  • Reward
  • Risk Assessment / methods
  • Risk-Taking*


  • GABA Agonists