Orbitofrontal neurons acquire responses to 'valueless' Pavlovian cues during unblocking

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The orbitofrontal cortex (OFC) has been described as signaling outcome expectancies or value. Evidence for the latter comes from the studies showing that neural signals in the OFC correlate with value across features. Yet features can co-vary with value, and individual units may participate in multiple ensembles coding different features. Here we used unblocking to test whether OFC neurons would respond to a predictive cue signaling a 'valueless' change in outcome flavor. Neurons were recorded as the rats learned about cues that signaled either an increase in reward number or a valueless change in flavor. We found that OFC neurons acquired responses to both predictive cues. This activity exceeded that exhibited to a 'blocked' cue and was correlated with activity to the actual outcome. These results show that OFC neurons fire to cues with no value independent of what can be inferred through features of the predicted outcome.

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McDannald, M. A., Esber, G. R., Wegener, M. A., Wied, H. M., Liu, T. L., Stalnaker, T. A., … Schoenbaum, G. (2014). Orbitofrontal neurons acquire responses to “valueless” Pavlovian cues during unblocking. ELife, 3, e02653. https://doi.org/10.7554/eLife.02653

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