Neuronal signals in the prefrontal cortex have been reported to predict upcoming decisions. Such activity patterns are often coupled to perceptual cues indicating correct choices or values of different options. How does the prefrontal cortex signal future decisions when no cues are present but when decisions are made based on internal valuations of past experiences with stochastic outcomes? We trained rats to perform a two-arm bandit-task, successfully adjusting choices between certain-small or possible-big rewards with changing long-term advantages. We discovered specialized prefrontal neurons, whose firing during the encounter of no-reward predicted the subsequent choice of animals, even for unlikely or uncertain decisions and several seconds before choice execution. Optogenetic silencing of the prelimbic cortex exclusively timed to encounters of no reward, provoked animals to excessive gambling for large rewards. Firing of prefrontal neurons during outcome evaluation signals subsequent choices during gambling and is essential for dynamically adjusting decisions based on internal valuations.
Keywords: adaptive control; decision-making; gambling; negative feedback; outcome evaluation; prefrontal cortex; prelimbic cortex; risk.
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