A cognitive map for value-guided choice in ventromedial prefrontal cortex.

bioRxiv : the preprint server for biology(2023)

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The prefrontal cortex is crucial for economic decision-making and representing the value of options. However, how such representations facilitate flexible decisions remains unknown. We reframe economic decision-making in prefrontal cortex in line with representations of structure within the medial temporal lobe because such cognitive map representations are known to facilitate flexible behaviour. Specifically, we framed choice between different options as a navigation process in value space. Here we show that choices in a 2D value space defined by reward magnitude and probability were represented with a grid-like code, analogous to that found in spatial navigation. The grid-like code was present in ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC) local field potential theta frequency and the result replicated in an independent dataset. Neurons in vmPFC similarly contained a grid-like code, in addition to encoding the linear value of the chosen option. Importantly, both signals were modulated by theta frequency - occurring at theta troughs but on separate theta cycles. Furthermore, we found sharp-wave ripples - a key neural signature of planning and flexible behaviour - in vmPFC, which were modulated by accuracy and reward. These results demonstrate that multiple cognitive map-like computations are deployed in vmPFC during economic decision-making, suggesting a new framework for the implementation of choice in prefrontal cortex.
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