The orbitofrontal cortex (OFC) is a critical structure in the flexible control of value-based behaviours. OFC dysfunction is typically only detected when task or environmental contingencies change, against a backdrop of apparently intact initial acquisition and behaviour. While intact acquisition following OFC lesions in simple Pavlovian cue-outcome conditioning is often predicted by models of OFC function, this predicted null effect has not been thoroughly investigated. Here we test the effects of lesions and temporary muscimol inactivation of the rodent lateral OFC on the acquisition of a simple single cue-outcome relationship. Surprisingly, pre-training lesions significantly enhanced acquisition after over-training whereas post-training lesions and inactivation significantly impaired acquisition. This impaired acquisition to the cue reflects a disruption of behavioural control and not learning since the cue could also act as an effective blocking stimulus in an associative blocking procedure. These findings suggest that even simple cue-outcome representations acquired in the absence of OFC function are impoverished. Therefore, while OFC function is often associated with flexible behavioural control in complex environments, it is also involved in very simple Pavlovian acquisition where complex cue-outcome relationships are irrelevant to task performance.
bioRxiv Subject Collection: Neuroscience