A stable, distributed code for cue value in mouse cortex during reward learning

Elife. 2023 Jun 30:12:RP84604. doi: 10.7554/eLife.84604.


The ability to associate reward-predicting stimuli with adaptive behavior is frequently attributed to the prefrontal cortex, but the stimulus-specificity, spatial distribution, and stability of prefrontal cue-reward associations are unresolved. We trained head-fixed mice on an olfactory Pavlovian conditioning task and measured the coding properties of individual neurons across space (prefrontal, olfactory, and motor cortices) and time (multiple days). Neurons encoding cues or licks were most common in the olfactory and motor cortex, respectively. By quantifying the responses of cue-encoding neurons to six cues with varying probabilities of reward, we unexpectedly found value coding in all regions we sampled, with some enrichment in the prefrontal cortex. We further found that prefrontal cue and lick codes were preserved across days. Our results demonstrate that individual prefrontal neurons stably encode components of cue-reward learning within a larger spatial gradient of coding properties.

Keywords: brain; electrophysiology; learning; mouse; neuroscience.

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Psychological
  • Animals
  • Conditioning, Classical
  • Cues*
  • Learning*
  • Mice
  • Reward