Background Firing Rates of Orbitofrontal Neurons Reflect Specific Characteristics of Operant Sessions and Modulate Phasic Responses to Reward-Associated Cues and Behavior
The orbitofrontal cortex plays an important role in the ability of animals to adjust their behavior in response to behavioral outcomes. Multiple studies have demonstrated that responses of orbitofrontal neurons during operant sessions reflect the outcome of particular behaviors. These studies have focused on rapid neural responses to short-duration events such as instrumental behavior and reward-associated discrete cues. We hypothesize that longer-lasting changes in firing are also important for information processing in the orbitofrontal cortex. In the present study, we recorded the activity of 115 single orbitofrontal neurons during a multiphase operant task in which the relationship between a lever-press response and a sucrose reward was varied between the different phases. Approximately one-half of the orbitofrontal neurons exhibited a change in background firing during the operant phases. These changes were observable across multiple behavioral and stimulus events and thus reflected a general shift in background firing. The majority of changes were selective for one or the other of the operant phases. Selective changes contributed to unique patterns of phasic firing time locked to cues and operant behavior in the two operant phases. These findings are consistent with the interpretation that changes in background firing of orbitofrontal neurons reflect operant session characteristics associated with behavioral outcome, and indicate further that changes in background firing contribute to the outcome selectivity of phasic firing patterns. More generally, we propose that the background firing rates of orbitofrontal neurons reflect contextual information, and facilitate context-appropriate event-related information processing and behavioral responses.
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