Amygdala-cortical collaboration in reward learning and decision making

Elife. 2022 Sep 5;11:e80926. doi: 10.7554/eLife.80926.


Adaptive reward-related decision making requires accurate prospective consideration of the specific outcome of each option and its current desirability. These mental simulations are informed by stored memories of the associative relationships that exist within an environment. In this review, I discuss recent investigations of the function of circuitry between the basolateral amygdala (BLA) and lateral (lOFC) and medial (mOFC) orbitofrontal cortex in the learning and use of associative reward memories. I draw conclusions from data collected using sophisticated behavioral approaches to diagnose the content of appetitive memory in combination with modern circuit dissection tools. I propose that, via their direct bidirectional connections, the BLA and OFC collaborate to help us encode detailed, outcome-specific, state-dependent reward memories and to use those memories to enable the predictions and inferences that support adaptive decision making. Whereas lOFC→BLA projections mediate the encoding of outcome-specific reward memories, mOFC→BLA projections regulate the ability to use these memories to inform reward pursuit decisions. BLA projections to lOFC and mOFC both contribute to using reward memories to guide decision making. The BLA→lOFC pathway mediates the ability to represent the identity of a specific predicted reward and the BLA→mOFC pathway facilitates understanding of the value of predicted events. Thus, I outline a neuronal circuit architecture for reward learning and decision making and provide new testable hypotheses as well as implications for both adaptive and maladaptive decision making.

Keywords: Pavlovian conditioning; Pavlovian-to-instrumental transfer; basolateral amygdala; learning; memory; neuroscience; orbitofrontal cortex.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Amygdala / physiology
  • Basolateral Nuclear Complex* / physiology
  • Decision Making / physiology
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiology
  • Prospective Studies
  • Reward*