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Locus coeruleus neuromodulation of memories encoded during negative or unexpected action outcomes

Neurobiology of Learning and Memory
DOI: 10.1016/j.nlm.2014.03.006
  • Locus Coeruleus
  • Outcomes
  • Functional Connectivity
  • Memory
  • Biology
  • Economics


Abstract When people experience surprising or sub-optimal performance outcomes, an increase in autonomic arousal helps allocate cognitive resources to adjust behavior accordingly. The locus-coeruleus–norepinephrine (LC–NE) system regulates a central orienting response to behaviorally relevant events, and might therefore signal the need to attend to and learn from performance feedback. Memories of such events also rely on elevated NE, suggesting that LC activity not only responds to salient performance outcomes but also strengthens memory for stimuli associated with their occurrence. In the present study, we used a monetary incentive delay paradigm to determine whether LC functional connectivity during reaction time feedback relates to trial-by-trial memory of preceding photo-objects. We used one psychophysiological interaction (PPI) analysis to examine patterns of LC functional connectivity that were associated with subsequent memory for picture trials in which negative or positive feedback was given, and a second PPI analysis to investigate whether successfully encoded objects from trials with uncertain outcomes were related to distinct patterns of LC functional connectivity across the brain. The PPI results revealed that successfully encoded negative feedback trials (i.e., responses exceeding the response deadline) were uniquely associated with enhanced functional coupling between the LC and left anterior insula. Furthermore, successful memory for objects in low reaction time certainty trials (i.e., responses closest to the response deadline) were linked to positive LC functional coupling with left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. These findings suggest that noradrenergic influences help facilitate memory encoding during outcome processing via dynamic interactions with regions that process negative or unexpected feedback.

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