A dynamic code for economic object valuation in prefrontal cortex neurons.
Tsutsui K-I., Grabenhorst F., Kobayashi S., Schultz W.
Neuronal reward valuations provide the physiological basis for economic behaviour. Yet, how such valuations are converted to economic decisions remains unclear. Here we show that the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) implements a flexible value code based on object-specific valuations by single neurons. As monkeys perform a reward-based foraging task, individual DLPFC neurons signal the value of specific choice objects derived from recent experience. These neuronal object values satisfy principles of competitive choice mechanisms, track performance fluctuations and follow predictions of a classical behavioural model (Herrnstein's matching law). Individual neurons dynamically encode both, the updating of object values from recently experienced rewards, and their subsequent conversion to object choices during decision-making. Decoding from unselected populations enables a read-out of motivational and decision variables not emphasized by individual neurons. These findings suggest a dynamic single-neuron and population value code in DLPFC that advances from reward experiences to economic object values and future choices.