Adaptive gain and the role of the locus coeruleus-norepinephrine system in optimal performance

Gary Aston-Jones, Jonathan D. Cohen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

464 Scopus citations


Historically, the locus coeruleus-norepinephrine (LC-NE) system has been implicated in arousal, but recent findings suggest that this system plays a more complex and specific role in the control of behavior than investigators previously thought. We review neurophysiological, anatomical, and modeling studies in monkey that support a new theory of LC-NE function. LC neurons exhibit two modes of activity, phasic and tonic. Phasic LC activation is driven by the outcome of task-related decision processes and is proposed to facilitate ensuing behaviors and to help optimize task performance. When utility in the task wanes, LC neurons exhibit a tonic activity mode, associated with disengagement from the current task and a search for alternative behaviors. Monkey LC receives prominent, direct inputs from the anterior cingulate (ACC) and orbitofrontal cortices (OFC), both of which are thought to monitor task-related utility. We propose that these prefrontal areas produce the above patterns of LC activity to optimize the utility of performance on both short and long time scales.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)99-110
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Comparative Neurology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 5 2005

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Neuroscience


  • Anterior cingulate cortex
  • Decision making
  • Neuromodulation
  • Optimization
  • Orbitofrontal cortex
  • Utility


Dive into the research topics of 'Adaptive gain and the role of the locus coeruleus-norepinephrine system in optimal performance'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this