Survival requires both the ability to persistently pursue goals and the ability to determine when it is time to stop, an adaptive balance of perseverance and disengagement. Neural activity in the lateral habenula (LHb) has been linked to aversion and negative valence, but its role in regulating the balance between reward-seeking and disengaged behavioral states remains unclear. Here, we show that LHb neural activity is tonically elevated during minutes-long disengagements from reward-seeking behavior, whether due to repeated reward omission or following sufficient consumption of reward. Further, we show that LHb inhibition extends ongoing reward-seeking behavioral states but does not prompt re-engagement. We find no evidence for similar tonic activity fluctuations in ventral tegmental area (VTA) dopamine neurons. Our findings implicate the LHb as a key mediator of disengagement from reward-seeking behavior in multiple contexts and argue against the idea that the LHb contributes to decisions solely by signaling aversion.
bioRxiv Subject Collection: Neuroscience