A Functional Gradient in the Rodent Prefrontal Cortex Supports Behavioral Inhibition

Curr Biol. 2017 Feb 20;27(4):549-555. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2016.12.052. Epub 2017 Feb 9.


The ability to plan and execute appropriately timed responses to external stimuli is based on a well-orchestrated balance between movement initiation and inhibition. In impulse control disorders involving the prefrontal cortex (PFC) [1], this balance is disturbed, emphasizing the critical role that PFC plays in appropriately timing actions [2-4]. Here, we employed optogenetic and electrophysiological techniques to systematically analyze the functional role of five key subareas of the rat medial PFC (mPFC) and orbitofrontal cortex (OFC) in action control [5-9]. Inactivation of mPFC subareas induced drastic changes in performance, namely an increase (prelimbic cortex, PL) or decrease (infralimbic cortex, IL) of premature responses. Additionally, electrophysiology revealed a significant decrease in neuronal activity of a PL subpopulation prior to premature responses. In contrast, inhibition of OFC subareas (mainly the ventral OFC, i.e., VO) significantly impaired the ability to respond rapidly after external cues. Consistent with these findings, mPFC activity during response preparation predicted trial outcomes and reaction times significantly better than OFC activity. These data support the concept of opposing roles of IL and PL in directing proactive behavior and argue for an involvement of OFC in predominantly reactive movement control. By attributing defined roles to rodent PFC sections, this study contributes to a deeper understanding of the functional heterogeneity of this brain area and thus may guide medically relevant studies of PFC-associated impulse control disorders in this animal model for neural disorders [10-12].

Keywords: electrophysiology; inhibitory control; motor control; optogenetics; prefrontal cortex; rat; stop-signal task.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Electrophysiological Phenomena
  • Male
  • Optogenetics
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiology*
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology*
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Reaction Time / physiology*