New views of emotional regulation and decision making

2013

Challenge

The orbitofrontal cortex (OFC) was believed to be a central hub in the brain involved in emotional regulation and behavioral flexibility. However, recent research had cast doubt on that theory, and more precise lesion studies were necessary to reassess the role of the OFC in behavior.

Advance

In an animal model, Elisabeth Murray, Ph.D., and colleagues found that the OFC is not involved in behavioral flexibility (measured by a learning task) or emotional response (measured by fear of snakes) as previously thought. However, they found that, while the OFC is not involved in emotional regulation, it does help guide decisions based on the value of food rewards.

Impact

The new understanding of the OFC’s function in behavior requires the field of psychiatry to reassess whether psychiatric conditions such as major depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and psychopathy are linked to disruption of value representations housed in the OFC, rather than disordered cognitive flexibility as previously thought.

Publications

Rudebeck PH, Saunders RC, Prescott AT, Chau LS, Murray EA. (2013). Prefrontal mechanisms of behavioral flexibility, emotion regulation and value updating. Nat Neurosci. 16(8), 1140-1145.