The role of rat medial frontal cortex in effort-based decision making.
Walton ME., Bannerman DM., Rushworth MF.
We conducted a series of experiments to elucidate the role of rat medial frontal cortex (MFC) (including prelimbic, infralimbic, and cingulate cortices) in effort-based decision making. Rats were trained on a cost-benefit T-maze task in which they could either choose to climb a barrier to obtain a high reward in one arm (HR arm) or could obtain a small reward in the other with no barrier present (LR arm). Before surgery, all animals were selecting the HR arm on almost every trial. However, after excitotoxic lesions to MFC, the rats shifted to selecting the LR arm on almost every trial. This was not caused by a spatial memory or motor deficit because the same rats returned to selecting the HR arm when the amount of effort needed to be expended to obtain reward in either arm was equalized by putting an identical barrier in the LR arm. Additional experiments demonstrated that the change in effort-based decisions observed in the rats was not caused by a complete insensitivity to reward and effort because they returned to choosing the HR arm if either the cost was reduced (by making the barrier smaller) or the benefit was increased (increasing the food ratio differential). Instead, the MFC lesion shifted the animals' decision criterion, making them more likely to choose the LR arm than the sham-lesioned animals. These results imply that medial frontal cortex is important for allowing the animal to put in more work to obtain greater rewards.