Reward prediction based on stimulus categorization in primate lateral prefrontal cortex

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To adapt to changeable or unfamiliar environments, it is important that animals develop strategies for goal-directed behaviors that meet the new challenges. We used a sequential paired-association task with asymmetric reward schedule to investigate how prefrontal neurons integrate multiple already-acquired associations to predict reward. Two types of reward-related neurons were observed in the lateral prefrontal cortex: one type predicted reward independent of physical properties of visual stimuli and the other encoded the reward value specific to a category of stimuli defined by the task requirements. Neurons of the latter type were able to predict reward on the basis of stimuli that had not yet been associated with reward, provided that another stimulus from the same category was paired with reward. The results suggest that prefrontal neurons can represent reward information on the basis of category and propagate this information to category members that have not been linked directly with any experience of reward.

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Figure 1: The sequential paired-association task with an asymmetric reward schedule and monkeys' behavioral performance.
Figure 2: An example of a reward-type cell and population activity.
Figure 3: An example of a stimulus reward–type cell and population activity.
Figure 4: An example of a reward-type neuron and population activities in three sequences.
Figure 5: A typical stimulus reward–type neuron and population activities in three sequences.


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We are grateful to M. Koizumi, K. Nomoto, A. Noritake, and S. Kobayashi for technical assistance and J. Lauwereyns for insightful comments and discussion on the manuscript. This work was supported by the Human Frontier Science Program, Precursory Research for Embryonic Science and Technology, Japan Science and Technology Corporation, Grant-in-Aid for Scientific Research on Priority Areas and Tamagawa University Center of Excellence from the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology. (M.S.).

Author information

M.S., I.T., M.T. and X.P. designed the task. X.P. and K.S. conducted the experiments and data analyses. X.P. and M.S. wrote the manuscript.

Correspondence to Masamichi Sakagami.

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Pan, X., Sawa, K., Tsuda, I. et al. Reward prediction based on stimulus categorization in primate lateral prefrontal cortex. Nat Neurosci 11, 703–712 (2008) doi:10.1038/nn.2128

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