An integrative theory of locus coeruleus-norepinephrine function: Adaptive gain and optimal performance

Gary Aston-Jones, Jonathan D. Cohen

Research output: Contribution to journalReview article

1956 Scopus citations

Abstract

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 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 (exploitation). 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 (exploration). 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 frontal areas produce the above patterns of LC activity to optimize utility on both short and long timescales.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)403-450
Number of pages48
JournalAnnual Review of Neuroscience
Volume28
DOIs
StatePublished - 2005

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Neuroscience(all)

Keywords

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

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