Contrasting Effects of Medial and Lateral Orbitofrontal Cortex Lesions on Credit Assignment and Decision-Making in Humans.
Noonan MP., Chau BKH., Rushworth MFS., Fellows LK.
The orbitofrontal cortex is critical for goal-directed behavior. Recent work in macaques has suggested the lateral orbitofrontal cortex (lOFC) is relatively more concerned with assignment of credit for rewards to particular choices during value-guided learning, whereas the medial orbitofrontal cortex (often referred to as ventromedial prefrontal cortex in humans; vmPFC/mOFC) is involved in constraining the decision to the relevant options. We examined whether people with damage restricted to subregions of prefrontal cortex showed the patterns of impairment observed in prior investigations of the effects of lesions to homologous regions in macaques. Groups of patients with either lOFC (predominantly right hemisphere), mOFC/vmPFC, or dorsomedial prefrontal (DMF), and a comparison group of healthy age- and education-matched controls performed a probabilistic 3-choice decision-making task. We report anatomically specific patterns of impairment. We found that credit assignment, as indexed by the normal influence of contingent relationships between choice and reward, is reduced in lOFC patients compared with Controls and mOFC/vmPFC patients. Moreover, the effects of reward contingency on choice were similar for patients with lesions in DMF or mOFC/vmPFC, compared with Controls. By contrast, mOFC/vmPFC-lesioned patients made more stochastic choices than Controls when the decision was framed by valuable distracting alternatives, suggesting that value comparisons were no longer independent of irrelevant options. Once again, there was evidence of regional specialization: patients with lOFC lesions were unimpaired relative to Controls. As in macaques, human lOFC and mOFC/vmPFC are necessary for contingent learning and value-guided decision-making, respectively.SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT The lateral and medial regions of the orbitofrontal cortex are cytoarchitectonically distinct and have different anatomical connections. Previous investigations in macaques have shown these anatomical differences are accompanied by functional specialization for learning and decision-making. Here, for the first time, we test the predictions made by macaque studies in an experiment with humans with frontal lobe lesions, asking whether behavioral impairments can be linked to lateral or medial orbitofrontal cortex. Using equivalent tasks and computational analyses, our findings broadly replicate the pattern reported after selective lesions in monkeys. Patients with lateral orbitofrontal damage had impaired credit assignment, whereas damage to medial orbitofrontal cortex meant that patients were more likely to be distracted by irrelevant options.