Dynamic construction of stimulus values in the ventromedial prefrontal cortex

PLoS One. 2011;6(6):e21074. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0021074. Epub 2011 Jun 14.


Signals representing the value assigned to stimuli at the time of choice have been repeatedly observed in ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC). Yet it remains unknown how these value representations are computed from sensory and memory representations in more posterior brain regions. We used electroencephalography (EEG) while subjects evaluated appetitive and aversive food items to study how event-related responses modulated by stimulus value evolve over time. We found that value-related activity shifted from posterior to anterior, and from parietal to central to frontal sensors, across three major time windows after stimulus onset: 150-250 ms, 400-550 ms, and 700-800 ms. Exploratory localization of the EEG signal revealed a shifting network of activity moving from sensory and memory structures to areas associated with value coding, with stimulus value activity localized to vmPFC only from 400 ms onwards. Consistent with these results, functional connectivity analyses also showed a causal flow of information from temporal cortex to vmPFC. Thus, although value signals are present as early as 150 ms after stimulus onset, the value signals in vmPFC appear relatively late in the choice process, and seem to reflect the integration of incoming information from sensory and memory related regions.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Behavior / physiology
  • Electroencephalography
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Memory / physiology
  • Photic Stimulation*
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiology*
  • Signal Processing, Computer-Assisted
  • Time Factors
  • Young Adult