Striatal circuits for reward learning and decision-making

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How are actions linked with subsequent outcomes to guide choices? The nucleus accumbens (NAc), which is implicated in this process, receives glutamatergic inputs from the prelimbic cortex (PL) and midline regions of the thalamus (mTH). However, little is known about what is represented in PL or mTH neurons that project to NAc (PL-NAc and mTH-NAc). By comparing these inputs during a reinforcement learning task in mice, we discovered that i) PL-NAc preferentially represents actions and choices, ii) mTH-NAc preferentially represents cues, iii) choice-selective activity in PL-NAc is organized in sequences that persist beyond the outcome. Through computational modeling, we demonstrate that these sequences can support the neural implementation of temporal difference learning, a powerful algorithm to connect actions and outcomes across time. Finally, we test and confirm predictions of our circuit model by direct manipulation of PL-NAc neurons. Thus, we integrate experiment and modeling to suggest a neural solution for credit assignment.