Metabolic Brain Disease

, Volume 34, Issue 2, pp 417–429 | Cite as

Neurons in rat orbitofrontal cortex and medial prefrontal cortex exhibit distinct responses in reward and strategy-update in a risk-based decision-making task

  • Dan-Dan Hong
  • Wen-Qiang Huang
  • Ai-Ai Ji
  • Sha-Sha Yang
  • Hui Xu
  • Ke-Yi Sun
  • Aihua Cao
  • Wen-Jun Gao
  • Ning ZhouEmail author
  • Ping YuEmail author
Original Article


The orbitofrontal cortex (OFC) and the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) are known to participate in risk-based decision-making. However, whether neuronal activities of these two brain regions play similar or differential roles during different stages of risk-based decision-making process remains unknown. Here we conducted multi-channel in vivo recordings in the OFC and mPFC simultaneously when rats were performing a gambling task. Rats were trained to update strategy as the task was shifted in two stages. Behavioral testing suggests that rats exhibited different risk preferences and response latencies to food rewards during stage-1 and stage-2. Indeed, the firing patterns and numbers of non-specific neurons and nosepoking-predicting neurons were similar in OFC and mPFC. However, there were no reward-expecting neurons and significantly more reward-excitatory neurons (fired as rats received rewards) in the mPFC. Further analyses suggested that nosepoking-predicting neurons may encode the overall value of reward and strategy, whereas reward-expecting neurons show more intensive firing to a big food reward in the OFC. Nosepoking-predicting neurons in mPFC showed no correlation with decision-making strategy updating, whereas the response of reward-excitatory neurons in mPFC, which were barely observed in OFC, were inhibited during nosepoking, but were enhanced in the post-nosepoking period. These findings indicate that neurons in the OFC and mPFC exhibit distinct responses in decision-making process during reward consumption and strategy updating. Specifically, OFC encodes the overall value of a choice and is thus important for learning and strategy updating, whereas mPFC plays a key role in monitoring and execution of a strategy.


Risk-based decision-making Orbital frontal cortex Medial prefrontal cortex Multi-channel units recording 



This work was supported by research grants from Science and Technology Project of Beijing Municipal Education Commission (KM201410028019) of China, National Natural Science Foundation of China (81401131) and China Postdoctoral Science Foundation (2015 M572049). We thank Dr. Gang Song (Institute of Medical Engineering and Science, Massachusetts Institute of Technology) and Dr. Dong Wang (Institute of Drug Addiction, National Institute of Health, USA) for critically reading the manuscript and useful suggestions, as well as Dr. Kimberly Urban for editorial assistance.

Authors Contributions

Wen-Qiang Huang, Ai-Ai Ji, Sha-Sha Yang and Ke-Yi Sun conducted the experiments, Dan-Dan Hong, Wen-Qiang Huang and Ai-Ai Ji analyzed the data. Dan-Dan Hong, Wen-Qiang Huang, Sha-Sha Yang, Hui Xu and Aihua Cao wrote the results and manuscript. Wen-Jun Gao revised the paper. Ning Zhou conceived and supervised the project. Ping Yu conceived and supervised the project and wrote the paper.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that the research was conducted in the absence of any commercial or financial relationships that could be construed as a potential conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Dan-Dan Hong
    • 1
  • Wen-Qiang Huang
    • 1
  • Ai-Ai Ji
    • 1
  • Sha-Sha Yang
    • 1
  • Hui Xu
    • 2
  • Ke-Yi Sun
    • 1
  • Aihua Cao
    • 3
  • Wen-Jun Gao
    • 4
  • Ning Zhou
    • 5
    Email author
  • Ping Yu
    • 1
    Email author
  1. 1.Beijing Key Laboratory of Learning and Cognition, College of PsychologyCapital Normal UniversityBeijingChina
  2. 2.Interdepartmental Program in NeuroscienceUniversity of UtahSalt Lake CityUSA
  3. 3.Department of PediatricsShandong University Qilu HospitalJinanChina
  4. 4.Department of Neurobiology and AnatomyDrexel University College of MedicinePhiladelphiaUSA
  5. 5.The General Hospital of Chinese People’s Liberation ArmyBeijingChina

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