Previously established individual differences in appetitive approach and devaluation sensitivity observed in goal- and sign-trackers may be attributed to differences in the acquisition, modification, or use of associative information in basolateral amygdala (BLA) pathways. Here, we sought to determine the extent to which communication of associative information between BLA and anterior portions of insular cortex (IC) supports ongoing Pavlovian conditioned approach behaviors in sign- and goal-tracking rats, in the absence of manipulations to outcome value. We hypothesized that the BLA mediates goal-, but not sign- tracking approach through interactions with the IC, a brain region involved in supporting flexible behavior. We first trained rats in Pavlovian lever autoshaping to determine their sign- or goal-tracking tendency. During alternating test sessions, we gave unilateral intracranial injections of vehicle or a cocktail of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) receptor agonists, baclofen and muscimol, unilaterally into the BLA and contralaterally or ipsilaterally into the IC prior to reinforced lever autoshaping sessions. Consistent with our hypothesis we found that contralateral inactivation of BLA and IC increased the latency to approach the food cup and decreased the number of food cup contacts in goal-trackers. While contralateral inactivation of BLA and IC did not affect the total number of lever contacts in sign-trackers, this manipulation increased the latency to approach the lever. Ipsilateral inactivation of BLA and IC did not impact approach behaviors in Pavlovian lever autoshaping. These findings, contrary to our hypothesis, suggest that communication between BLA and IC maintains a representation of initially learned appetitive associations that commonly support the initiation of Pavlovian conditioned approach behavior regardless of whether it is directed at the cue or the location of reward delivery.
Keywords: Amygdala; Disconnection; Goal-tracking; Insular cortex; Pavlovian lever autoshaping; Sign-tracking.
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