Distinct roles of three frontal cortical areas in reward-guided behavior

J Neurosci. 2011 Oct 5;31(40):14399-412. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.6456-10.2011.


Functional magnetic resonance imaging was used to measure activity in three frontal cortical areas, the lateral orbitofrontal cortex (lOFC), medial orbitofrontal cortex (mOFC)/ventromedial frontal cortex (vmPFC), and anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), when expectations about type of reward, and not just reward presence or absence, could be learned. Two groups of human subjects learned 12 stimulus-response pairings. In one group (Consistent), correct performances of a given pairing were always reinforced with a specific reward outcome, whereas in the other group (Inconsistent), correct performances were reinforced with randomly selected rewards. The mOFC/vmPFC and lOFC were not distinguished by simple differences in relative preference for positive and negative outcomes. Instead lOFC activity reflected updating of reward-related associations specific to reward type; lOFC was active whenever informative outcomes allowed updating of reward-related associations, regardless of whether the outcomes were positive or negative, and the effects were greater when consistent stimulus-outcome and response-outcome mappings were present. A psychophysiological interaction analysis demonstrated changed coupling between lOFC and brain areas for visual object representation, such as perirhinal cortex, and reward-guided learning, such as the amygdala, ventral striatum, and habenula/mediodorsal thalamus. In contrast, mOFC/vmPFC activity reflected expected values of outcomes and occurrence of positive outcomes, regardless of consistency of outcome mappings. The third frontal cortical region, the ACC, reflected the use of reward type information to guide response selection. ACC activity reflected the probability of selecting the correct response, was greater when consistent outcome mappings were present, and was related to individual differences in propensity to select the correct response.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Brain Mapping / methods
  • Female
  • Frontal Lobe / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Learning / physiology*
  • Male
  • Photic Stimulation / methods*
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology*
  • Reward*
  • Young Adult