Local and global reward learning in the lateral frontal cortex show differential development during human adolescence

PLoS Biol. 2023 Mar 2;21(3):e3002010. doi: 10.1371/journal.pbio.3002010. eCollection 2023 Mar.


Reward-guided choice is fundamental for adaptive behaviour and depends on several component processes supported by prefrontal cortex. Here, across three studies, we show that two such component processes, linking reward to specific choices and estimating the global reward state, develop during human adolescence and are linked to the lateral portions of the prefrontal cortex. These processes reflect the assignment of rewards contingently to local choices, or noncontingently, to choices that make up the global reward history. Using matched experimental tasks and analysis platforms, we show the influence of both mechanisms increase during adolescence (study 1) and that lesions to lateral frontal cortex (that included and/or disconnected both orbitofrontal and insula cortex) in human adult patients (study 2) and macaque monkeys (study 3) impair both local and global reward learning. Developmental effects were distinguishable from the influence of a decision bias on choice behaviour, known to depend on medial prefrontal cortex. Differences in local and global assignments of reward to choices across adolescence, in the context of delayed grey matter maturation of the lateral orbitofrontal and anterior insula cortex, may underlie changes in adaptive behaviour.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Animals
  • Choice Behavior
  • Frontal Lobe*
  • Humans
  • Learning*
  • Macaca
  • Prefrontal Cortex
  • Reward