Encoding of Reward and Space During a Working Memory Task in the Orbitofrontal Cortex and Anterior Cingulate Sulcus

Kennerley Steven W., Wallis Jonathan D. 2009.


Several lines of research indicate that emotional and motivational information may be useful in guiding the allocation of attentional resources. Two areas of the frontal lobe that are particularly implicated in the encoding of motivational information are the orbital prefrontal cortex (PFo) and the dorsomedial region of prefrontal cortex, specifically the anterior cingulate sulcus (PFcs). However, it remains unclear whether these areas use this information to influence spatial attention. We used single-unit neurophysiology to examine whether, at the level of individual neurons, there was evidence for integration between reward information and spatial attention. We trained two subjects to perform a task that required them to attend to a spatial location across a delay under different expectancies of reward for 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. We found little evidence for encoding of the spatial location in either PFo or PFcs. In contrast, both areas encoded the expected reward. Furthermore, PFo consistently encoded reward more quickly than PFcs, although reward encoding was subsequently more prevalent and stronger in PFcs. These results suggest a differential contribution of PFo and PFcs to reward encoding, with PFo potentially more important for initially determining the value of rewards predicted by sensory stimuli. They also suggest that neither PFo nor PFcs play a direct role in the control of spatial attention.