Synchronization of medial temporal lobe and prefrontal rhythms in human decision making

J Neurosci. 2013 Jan 9;33(2):442-51. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.2573-12.2013.


Optimal decision making requires that we integrate mnemonic information regarding previous decisions with value signals that entail likely rewards and punishments. The fact that memory and value signals appear to be coded by segregated brain regions, the hippocampus in the case of memory and sectors of prefrontal cortex in the case of value, raises the question as to how they are integrated during human decision making. Using magnetoencephalography to study healthy human participants, we show increased theta oscillations over frontal and temporal sensors during nonspatial decisions based on memories from previous trials. Using source reconstruction we found that the medial temporal lobe (MTL), in a location compatible with the anterior hippocampus, and the anterior cingulate cortex in the medial wall of the frontal lobe are the source of this increased theta power. Moreover, we observed a correlation between theta power in the MTL source and behavioral performance in decision making, supporting a role for MTL theta oscillations in decision-making performance. These MTL theta oscillations were synchronized with several prefrontal sources, including lateral superior frontal gyrus, dorsal anterior cingulate gyrus, and medial frontopolar cortex. There was no relationship between the strength of synchronization and the expected value of choices. Our results indicate a mnemonic guidance of human decision making, beyond anticipation of expected reward, is supported by hippocampal-prefrontal theta synchronization.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Anticipation, Psychological
  • Behavior / physiology
  • Cortical Synchronization*
  • Decision Making / physiology*
  • Female
  • Hippocampus / physiology
  • Humans
  • Learning / physiology
  • Magnetoencephalography
  • Male
  • Memory / physiology
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiology*
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology
  • Reinforcement, Psychology
  • Reward
  • Temporal Lobe / physiology*
  • Theta Rhythm / physiology
  • Young Adult