Neural activity ramps in frontal cortex signal extended motivation during learning

Kavli Affiliate: Priya Rajasethupathy

| Authors: Josue M Regalado, Ariadna Corredera Asensio, Theresa Haunold, Andrew C Toader, Yan Ran Li, Lauren A Neal and Priya Rajasethupathy

| Summary:

Learning requires the ability to link actions to outcomes. How motivation facilitates learning is not well understood. We designed a behavioral task in which mice self-initiate trials to learn cue-reward contingencies and found that the anterior cingulate region of the prefrontal cortex (ACC) contains motivation-related signals to maximize rewards. In particular, we found that ACC neural activity was consistently tied to trial initiations where mice seek to leave unrewarded cues to reach reward-associated cues. Notably, this neural signal persisted over consecutive unrewarded cues until reward associated cues were reached, and was required for learning. To determine how ACC inherits this motivational signal we performed projection specific photometry recordings from several inputs to ACC during learning. In doing so, we identified a ramp in bulk neural activity in orbitofrontal cortex (OFC) -to-ACC projections as mice received unrewarded cues, which continued ramping across consecutive unrewarded cues, and finally peaked upon reaching a reward associated cue, thus maintaining an extended motivational state. Cellular resolution imaging of OFC confirmed these neural correlates of motivation, and further delineated separate ensembles of neurons that sequentially tiled the ramp. Together, these results identify a mechanism by which OFC maps out task structure to convey an extended motivational state to ACC to facilitate goal-directed learning.

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