Anterior cingulate cortex supports effort allocation towards a qualitatively preferred option

Eur J Neurosci. 2017 Jul;46(1):1682-1688. doi: 10.1111/ejn.13608. Epub 2017 Jun 21.


The anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) is known to be involved in effortful choice, yet its role in cost-benefit evaluation of qualitatively different rewards (more/less preferred), beyond magnitude differences (larger/smaller), is poorly understood. Selecting between qualitatively different options is a decision type commonly faced by humans. Here, we assessed the role of ACC on a task that has primarily been used to probe striatal function in motivation. Rats were trained to stable performance on a progressive ratio schedule for sucrose pellets and were then given sham surgeries (control) or excitotoxic NMDA lesions of ACC. Subsequently, a choice was introduced: chow was concurrently available while animals could work for the preferred sucrose pellets. ACC lesions produced a significant decrease in lever presses for sucrose pellets compared to control, whereas chow consumption was unaffected. Lesions had no effect on sucrose pellet preference when both options were freely available. When laboratory chow was not concurrently available, ACC-lesioned rats exhibited similar lever pressing as controls. During a test under specific satiety for sucrose pellets, ACC-lesioned rats also showed intact devaluation effects. The effects of ACC lesions in our task are not mediated by decreased appetite, a change in food preference, a failure to update value or a learning deficit. Taken together, we found that ACC lesions decreased effort for a qualitatively preferred option. These results are discussed with reference to effects of striatal manipulations and our recent report of a role for basolateral amygdala in effortful choice.

Keywords: amygdala; cost-benefit; devaluation; medial prefrontal cortex; progressive ratio.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Choice Behavior*
  • Food Preferences
  • Gyrus Cinguli / physiology*
  • Male
  • Rats
  • Rats, Long-Evans