Valence processing in the PFC: Reconciling circuit-level and systems-level views

Austin A. Coley, Nancy Padilla-Coreano, Reesha Patel, Kay M. Tye*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

8 Scopus citations


An essential component in animal behavior is the ability to process emotion and dissociate among positive and negative valence in response to a rewarding or aversive stimulus. The medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC)—responsible for higher order executive functions that include cognition, learning, and working memory; and is also involved in sociability—plays a major role in emotional processing and control. Although the amygdala is widely regarded as the “emotional hub,” the mPFC encodes for context-specific salience and elicits top-down control over limbic circuitry. The mPFC can then conduct behavioral responses, via cortico-striatal and cortico-brainstem pathways, that correspond to emotional stimuli. Evidence shows that abnormalities within the mPFC lead to sociability deficits, working memory impairments, and drug-seeking behavior that include addiction and compulsive disorders; as well as conditions such as anhedonia. Recent studies investigate the effects of aberrant salience processing on cortical circuitry and neuronal populations associated with these behaviors. In this chapter, we discuss mPFC valence processing, neuroanatomical connections, and physiological substrates involved in mPFC-associated behavior. We review neurocomputational and theoretical models such as “mixed selectivity,” that describe cognitive control, attentiveness, and motivational drives. Using this knowledge, we describe the effects of valence imbalances and its influence on mPFC neural pathways that contribute to deficits in social cognition, while understanding the effects in addiction/compulsive behaviors and anhedonia.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationWhat does Medial Frontal Cortex Signal During Behavior? Insights from Behavioral Neurophysiology
EditorsAdam T. Brockett, Adam T. Brockett, Linda M. Amarante, Mark Laubach, Matthew R. Roesch, Matthew R. Roesch
PublisherAcademic Press Inc
Number of pages42
ISBN (Print)9780323853361
StatePublished - Jan 2021

Publication series

NameInternational Review of Neurobiology
ISSN (Print)0074-7742
ISSN (Electronic)2162-5514


  • Addiction
  • Anhedonia
  • Circuits
  • Context-modulated
  • Ensembles
  • Evolution
  • Mental health
  • Mixed selectivity
  • Prefrontal cortex
  • Social
  • Species
  • Valence

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Neurology
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience


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