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Keywords:

  • cost;
  • decision-making;
  • dopamine;
  • motivation;
  • nucleus accumbens;
  • reward

Abstract

Efficient decision-making requires that animals consider both the benefits and the costs of potential actions, such as the amount of effort or temporal delay involved in reward seeking. The nucleus accumbens (NAc) has been implicated in the ability to choose between options with different costs and overcome high costs when necessary, but it is not clear how NAc processing contributes to this role. Here, neuronal activity in the rat NAc was monitored using multi-neuron electrophysiology during two cost-based decision tasks in which either reward effort or reward delay was manipulated. In each task, distinct visual cues predicted high-value (low effort/immediate) and low-value (high effort/delayed) rewards. After training, animals exhibited a behavioral preference for high-value rewards, yet overcame high costs when necessary to obtain rewards. Electrophysiological analysis indicated that a subgroup of NAc neurons exhibited phasic increases in firing rate during cue presentations. In the effort-based decision task (but not the delay-based task), this population reflected the cost-discounted value of the future response. In contrast, other subgroups of cells were activated during response initiation or reward delivery, but activity did not differ on the basis of reward cost. Finally, another population of cells exhibited sustained changes in firing rate while animals completed high-effort requirements or waited for delayed rewards. These findings are consistent with previous reports that implicate NAc function in reward prediction and behavioral allocation during reward-seeking behavior, and suggest a mechanism by which NAc activity contributes to both cost-based decisions and actual cost expenditure.