Comparing the role of the anterior cingulate cortex and 6-hydroxydopamine nucleus accumbens lesions on operant effort-based decision making.
Walton ME., Groves J., Jennings KA., Croxson PL., Sharp T., Rushworth MF., Bannerman DM.
Both the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) and mesolimbic dopamine, particularly in the nucleus accumbens (NAc), have been implicated in allowing an animal to overcome effort constraints to obtain greater benefits. However, their exact contribution to such decisions has, to date, never been directly compared. To investigate this issue we tested rats on an operant effort-related cost-benefit decision-making task where animals selected between two response alternatives, one of which involved investing effort by lever pressing on a high fixed-ratio (FR) schedule to gain high reward [four food pellets (HR)], whereas the other led to a small amount of food on an FR schedule entailing less energetic cost [two food pellets, low reward (LR)]. All animals initially preferred to put in work to gain the HR. Systemic administration of a D2 antagonist caused a significant switch in choices towards the LR option. Similarly, post-operatively, excitotoxic ACC lesions caused a significant bias away from HR choices compared with sham-lesioned animals. There was no slowing in the speed of lever pressing and no correlation between time to complete the FR requirement and choice performance. Unexpectedly, no such alteration in choice allocation was observed in animals following 6-hydroxydopamine NAc lesions. However, these rats were consistently slower to initiate responding when cued to commence each trial and also showed a reduction in food hoarding on a species-typical foraging task. Taken together, this implies that only ACC lesions, and not 6-hydroxydopamine NAc lesions as performed here, cause a bias away from investing effort for greater reward when choosing between competing options