Transition from 'model-based' to 'model-free' behavioral control in addiction: Involvement of the orbitofrontal cortex and dorsolateral striatum

Neuropharmacology. 2014 Jan;76 Pt B(0 0):407-15. doi: 10.1016/j.neuropharm.2013.05.033. Epub 2013 Jun 8.


Cocaine addiction is a complex and multidimensional process involving a number of behavioral and neural forms of plasticity. The behavioral transition from voluntary drug use to compulsive drug taking may be explained at the neural level by drug-induced changes in function or interaction between a flexible planning system, associated with prefrontal cortical regions, and a rigid habit system, associated with the striatum. The dichotomy between these two systems is operationalized in computational theory by positing model-based and model-free learning mechanisms, the former relying on an "internal model" of the environment and the latter on pre-computed or cached values to control behavior. In this review, we will suggest that model-free and model-based learning mechanisms appear to be differentially affected, at least in the case of psychostimulants such as cocaine, with the former being enhanced while the latter are disrupted. As a result, the behavior of long-term drug users becomes less flexible and responsive to the desirability of expected outcomes and more habitual, based on the long history of reinforcement. To support our specific proposal, we will review recent neural and behavioral evidence on the effect of psychostimulant exposure on orbitofrontal and dorsolateral striatum structure and function. This article is part of a Special Issue entitled 'NIDA 40th Anniversary Issue'.

Keywords: Addiction; Orbitofrontal cortex; Striatum.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Intramural

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cocaine-Related Disorders / pathology*
  • Cocaine-Related Disorders / physiopathology
  • Corpus Striatum / physiopathology*
  • Humans
  • Learning / physiology*
  • Models, Neurological*
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiopathology*