Contrasting roles of basolateral amygdala and orbitofrontal cortex in impulsive choice.


The orbitofrontal cortex (OFC) and basolateral nucleus of the amygdala (BLA) share many reciprocal connections, and a functional interaction between these regions is important in controlling goal-directed behavior. However, their relative roles have proved hard to dissociate. Although injury to these brain regions can cause similar effects, it has been suggested that the resulting impairments arise through damage to different, yet converging, cognitive processes. Patients with OFC or amygdala lesions exhibit maladaptive decision making and aberrant social behavior often described as impulsive. Impulsive choice may be measured in both humans and rodents by evaluating intolerance to delay of reinforcement. Rats with excitotoxic lesions of the BLA and OFC were tested on such a delay-discounting procedure. Although lesions of the BLA increased choice of the small immediate reward, indicating greater impulsivity, OFC lesions had the opposite effect, increasing preference for the larger but delayed reward. The fact that the delay did not devalue the large reward to such an extent in OFC-lesioned animals supports the suggestion that the OFC is involved in updating the incentive value of outcomes in response to devaluation. In contrast, the BLA-lesioned animals markedly decreased their preference for the large reward when it was delayed, potentially because of an inability to maintain a representation of the reward in its absence. This is the first time that lesions to these two structures have produced opposite behavioral effects, indicating their distinct contributions to cognition.