Neural encoding in orbitofrontal cortex and basolateral amygdala during olfactory discrimination learning

Geoffrey Schoenbaum, Andrea A. Chiba, Michela Gallagher

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

467 Scopus citations


Orbitofrontal cortex (OFC) is part of a network of structures involved in adaptive behavior and decision making. Interconnections between OFC and basolateral amygdala (ABL) may be critical for encoding the motivational significance of stimuli used to guide behavior. Indeed, much research indicates that neurons in OFC and ABL fire selectively to cues based on their associative significance. In the current study recordings were made in each region within a behavioral paradigm that allowed comparison of the development of associative encoding over the course of learning. In each recording session, rats were presented with novel odor that were informative about the outcome of making a response and had to learn to withhold a response after sampling an odor that signaled a negative outcome. In some cases, reversal training was performed in the same session as the initial learning. Ninety-six of the 328 neurons recorded in OFC and 60 of the 229 neurons recorded in ABL exhibited selective activity during evaluation of the odor cues after learning had occurred. A substantial proportion of those neurons in ABL developed selective activity very early in training, and many reversed selectivity rapidly after reversal. In contrast, those neurons in OFC rarely exhibited selective activity during odor evaluation before the rats reached the criterion for learning, and far fewer reversed selectivity after reversal. The findings support a model in which ABL encodes the motivational significance of cues and OFC uses this information in the selection and execution of an appropriate behavioral strategy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1876-1884
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Neuroscience
Issue number5
StatePublished - Mar 1 1999


  • Amygdala
  • Basolateral amygdala
  • Discrimination learning
  • Electrophysiology
  • Learning and memory
  • Olfaction
  • Orbitofrontal cortex
  • Prefrontal cortex
  • Rats
  • Single units

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Medicine


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