Background: The value of a predicted reward can be estimated based on the conjunction of both the intrinsic reward value and the length of time to obtain it. The question we addressed is how the two aspects, reward size and proximity to reward, influence the responses of neurons in rostral anterior cingulate cortex (rACC), a brain region thought to play an important role in reward processing. Methods and Findings: We recorded from single neurons while two monkeys performed a multi-trial reward schedule task. The monkeys performed 1-4 sequential color discrimination trials to obtain a reward of 1-3 liquid drops. There were two task conditions, a valid cue condition, where the number of trials and reward amount were associated with visual cues, and a random cue condition, where the cue was picked from the cue set at random. In the valid cue condition, the neuronal firing is strongly modulated by the predicted reward proximity during the trials. Information about the predicted reward amount is almost absent at those times. In substantial subpopulations, the neuronal responses decreased or increased gradually through schedule progress to the predicted outcome. These two gradually modulating signals could be used to calculate the effect of time on the perception of reward value. In the random cue condition, little information about the reward proximity or reward amount is encoded during the course of the trial before reward delivery, but when the reward is actually delivered the responses reflect both the reward proximity and reward amount. Conclusions: Our results suggest that the rACC neurons encode information about reward proximity and amount in a manner that is dependent on utility of reward information. The manner in which the information is represented could be used in the moment-to-moment calculation of the effect of time and amount on predicted outcome value.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
- Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)