Adaptive encoding of outcome prediction by prefrontal cortex ensembles supports behavioral flexibility

Alberto Del Arco, Junchol Park, Jesse Wood, Yunbok Kim, Bita Moghaddam

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

35 Scopus citations


The prefrontal cortex (PFC) is thought to play a critical role in behavioral flexibility by monitoring action–outcome contingencies. How PFC ensembles represent shifts in behavior in response to changes in these contingencies remains unclear. We recorded single-unit activity and local field potentials in the dorsomedial PFC (dmPFC) of male rats during a set-shifting task that required them to update their behavior, among competing options, in response to changes in action–outcome contingencies. As behavior was updated, a subset of PFC ensembles encoded the current trial outcome before the outcome was presented. This novel outcome-prediction encoding was absent in a control task, in which actions were rewarded pseudorandomly, indicating that PFC neurons are not merely providing an expectancy signal. In both control and set-shifting tasks, dmPFC neurons displayed postoutcome discrimination activity, indicating that these neurons also monitor whether a behavior is successful in generating rewards. Gamma-power oscillatory activity increased before the outcome in both tasks but did not differentiate between expected outcomes, suggesting that this measure is not related to set-shifting behavior but reflects expectation of an outcome after action execution. These results demonstrate that PFC neurons support flexible rule-based action selection by predicting outcomes that follow a particular action.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)8363-8373
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Neuroscience
Issue number35
StatePublished - Aug 30 2017


  • Cognitive flexibility
  • Decision making
  • Outcome prediction
  • Single-unit recording
  • Working memory
  • γ oscillations

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Medicine


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