Reward-Dependent Modulation of Working Memory in Lateral Prefrontal Cortex

Kennerley Steven W., Wallis Jonathan D. 2009.


Although research implicates lateral prefrontal cortex (PFC) in executive control and goal-directed behavior, it remains unclear how goals influence executive processes. One possibility is that goal-relevant information, such as expected rewards, could modulate the representation of information relatingto executive control,thereby ensuringthe efficient allocation of cognitive resources. To investigate this, we examined how reward modulated spatial working memory. Past studies investigating spatial working memory have focused on dorsolateral PFC, but this area only weakly connects with areas processing reward. Ventrolateral PFC has better connections in this regard. Thus, we contrasted the functional properties of single neurons in ventrolateral and dorsolateral PFC as two subjects performed ataskthat requiredthemto hold spatial information in working memory under different expectancies of rewardfor correct performance. We balanced the order of presentation of spatial and reward information so we could assess the neuronal encoding of the two pieces of information independently and conjointly. Neurons in ventrolateral PFC encoded both spatial and reward information earlier, stronger and in a more sustained mannerthan neurons in dorsolateral PFC.Within ventrolateral PFC, spatial selectivity was more prevalent onthe inferior convexity than within the principal sulcus. Finally, when reward increased spatial selectivity, behavioral performance improved, whereas when reward decreased spatial selectivity, behavioral performance deteriorated. These results suggest that ventrolateral PFC may be a locus whereby information about expected rewards can modulate information in working memory. The pattern of results is consistent with a role for ventrolateral PFC in attentional control