Orbitofrontal neurons infer the value and identity of predicted outcomes

Nat Commun. 2014 Jun 4;5:3926. doi: 10.1038/ncomms4926.


The best way to respond flexibly to changes in the environment is to anticipate them. Such anticipation often benefits us if we can infer that a change has occurred, before we have actually experienced the effects of that change. Here we test for neural correlates of this process by recording single-unit activity in the orbitofrontal cortex in rats performing a choice task in which the available rewards changed across blocks of trials. Consistent with the proposal that orbitofrontal cortex signals inferred information, firing changes at the start of each new block as if predicting the not-yet-experienced reward. This change occurs whether the new reward is different in number of drops, requiring signalling of a new value, or in flavour, requiring signalling of a new sensory feature. These results show that orbitofrontal neurons provide a behaviourally relevant signal that reflects inferences about both value-relevant and value-neutral information about impending outcomes.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Anticipation, Psychological / physiology*
  • Choice Behavior
  • Learning / physiology
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Prefrontal Cortex / cytology
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiology*
  • Rats
  • Reward*