Identity-specific reward representations in orbitofrontal cortex are modulated by selective devaluation

James D. Howard, Thorsten Kahnt*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

71 Scopus citations


Goal-directed behavior is sensitive to the current value of expected outcomes. This requires independent representations of specific rewards, which have been linked to orbitofrontal cortex (OFC) function. However, the mechanisms by which the human brain updates specific goals on the fly, and translates those updates into choices, have remained unknown. Here we implemented selective devaluation of appetizing food odors in combination with pattern-based neuroimaging and a decision-making task. We found that in a hungry state, participants chose to smell high-intensity versions of two value-matched food odor rewards. After eating a meal corresponding to one of the two odors, participants switched choices toward the low intensity of the sated odor but continued to choose the high intensity of the nonsated odor. This sensory-specific behavioral effect was mirrored by pattern-based changes in fMRI signal in lateral posterior OFC, where specific reward identity representations were altered after the meal for the sated food odor but retained for the nonsated counter-part. In addition, changes in functional connectivity between the OFC and general value coding in ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC) predicted individual differences in satiety-related choice behavior. These findings demonstrate how flexible representations of specific rewards in the OFC are updated by devaluation, and how functional connections to vmPFC reflect the current value of outcomes and guide goal-directed behavior.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2627-2638
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Neuroscience
Issue number10
StatePublished - Mar 8 2017


  • Decision making
  • Devaluation
  • Olfaction
  • Orbitofrontal cortex
  • Reward
  • fMRI

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)


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