May 2019, Vol. 31, No. 5, Pages 870-896
© 2019 Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Inhibition and Excitation Shape Activity Selection: Effect of Oscillations in a Decision-Making Circuit
Article PDF (1.08 MB)
Decision making is a complex task, and its underlying mechanisms that regulate behavior, such as the implementation of the coupling between physiological states and neural networks, are hard to decipher. To gain more insight into neural computations underlying ongoing binary decision-making tasks, we consider a neural circuit that guides the feeding behavior of a hypothetical animal making dietary choices. We adopt an inhibition motif from neural network theory and propose a dynamical system characterized by nonlinear feedback, which links mechanism (the implementation of the neural circuit and its coupling to the animal's nutritional state) and function (improving behavioral performance). A central inhibitory unit influences evidence-integrating excitatory units, which in our terms correspond to motivations competing for selection. We determine the parameter regime where the animal exhibits improved decision-making behavior and explain different behavioral outcomes by making the link between accessible states of the nonlinear neural circuit model and decision-making performance. We find that for given deficits in nutritional items, the variation of inhibition strength and ratio of excitation and inhibition strengths in the decision circuit allows the animal to enter an oscillatory phase that describes its internal motivational state. Our findings indicate that this oscillatory phase may improve the overall performance of the animal in an ongoing foraging task and underpin the importance of an integrated functional and mechanistic study of animal activity selection.