Modulation of attention and action in the medial prefrontal cortex of rats

Psychol Rev. 2018 Oct;125(5):822-843. doi: 10.1037/rev0000118.


Theories of functioning in the medial prefrontal cortex are distinct across appetitively and aversively motivated procedures. In the appetitive domain, it is argued that the medial prefrontal cortex is important for producing adaptive behavior when circumstances change. This view advocates a role for this region in using higher-order information to bias performance appropriate to that circumstance. Conversely, literature born out of aversive studies has led to the theory that the prelimbic region of the medial prefrontal cortex is necessary for the expression of conditioned fear, whereas the infralimbic region is necessary for a decrease in responding following extinction. Here, the argument is that these regions are primed to increase or decrease fear responses and that this tendency is gated by subcortical inputs. However, we believe the data from aversive studies can be explained by a supraordinate role for the medial prefrontal cortex in behavioral flexibility, in line with the appetitive literature. Using a dichotomy between the voluntary control of behavior and the execution of well-trained responses, we attempt to reconcile these theories. We argue that the prelimbic region exerts voluntary control over behavior via top-down modulation of stimulus-response pathways according to task demands, contextual cues, and how well a stimulus predicts an outcome. Conversely, the infralimbic region promotes responding based on the strength of stimulus-response pathways determined by experience with reinforced contingencies. This system resolves the tension between executing voluntary actions sensitive to recent changes in contingencies, and responses that reflect the animal's experience across the long run. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2018 APA, all rights reserved).

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Attention / physiology*
  • Behavior, Animal / physiology*
  • Conditioning, Classical / physiology*
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiology*
  • Rats