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Shifting the exploration/exploitation balance using a virtual reality foraging task

María Alejandra Prost

  • CABA,
  • Argentina
  • M Alejandra Prost ¹
  • , Gustavo Murer ¹
  • , Camila Zold ¹

A correct balance between exploitation of known resources and exploration of new territories is key to animals’ survivor in a natural environment. Many environmental clues such as the quality, quantity and stability of available resources can influence this balance. Different structures have been associated with this decision-making process. We focused on the dorsomedial striatum, which is proposed as an integrator of information about the environment and the animal’s internal state. To study the role of the dorsomedial striatum in the exploration-exploitation balance, we designed a virtual reality task. Head-fixed mice explore a virtual linear track consisting of short rewarded areas (RA) separated by unrewarded corridors. Upon reaching the RA, animals are required to perform a sequence of licks to obtain a drop of water as reward. Each consecutive reward requires an exponentially increasing number of licks to be obtained. We determined the breaking point as the maximum number of rewards obtained before the animal decides to stop exploiting the current RA and runs to the next one. We used an array of four chronically implanted tetrodes to record single unit and LFP activity during the task. So far, we have been able to shift the animals’ exploration/exploitation balance by changing the length of the corridors separating the RA (longer corridors led to greater breaking points). We are currently analysing single unit activity to determine how is this codified in the structure.