Processing and Integration of Contextual Information in Monkey Ventrolateral Prefrontal Neurons during Selection and Execution of Goal-Directed Manipulative Actions
Journal of Neuroscience
The prefrontal cortex (PFC) is deemed to underlie the complexity, flexibility, and goal-directedness of primates' behavior. Most neurophysiological studies performed so far investigated PFC functions with arm-reaching or oculomotor tasks, thus leaving unclear whether, and to which extent, PFC neurons also play a role in goal-directed manipulative actions, such as those commonly used by primates during most of their daily activities. Here we trained two macaques to perform or withhold
... withhold grasp-to-eat and grasp-to-place actions, depending on the combination of two subsequently presented cues: an auditory go/no-go cue (high/low tone) and a visually presented target (food/object). By varying the order of presentation of the two cues, we could segment and independently evaluate the processing and integration of contextual information allowing the monkey to make a decision on whether or not to act, and what action to perform. We recorded 403 task-related neurons from the ventrolateral prefrontal cortex (VLPFC): unimodal sensory-driven (37%), motor-related (21%), unimodal sensory-and-motor (23%), and multisensory (19%) neurons. Target and go/no-go selectivity characterized most of the recorded neurons, particularly those endowed with motor-related discharge. Interestingly, multisensory neurons appeared to encode a behavioral decision independently from the sensory modality of the stimulus allowing the monkey to make it: some of them reflected the decision to act or refraining from acting (56%), whereas others (44%) encoded the decision to perform (or withhold) a specific action (e.g., grasp-to-eat). Our findings indicate that VLPFC neurons play a role in the processing of contextual information underlying motor decision during goal-directed manipulative actions. We demonstrated that macaque ventrolateral prefrontal cortex (VLPFC) neurons show remarkable selectivity for different aspects of the contextual information allowing the monkey to select and execute goal-directed manipulative actions. Interestingly, a set of these neurons provide multimodal representations of the intended goal of a forthcoming action, encoding a behavioral decision (e.g., grasp-to-eat) independently from the sensory information allowing the monkey to make it. Our findings expand the available knowledge on prefrontal functions by showing that VLPFC neurons play a role in the selection and execution of goal-directed manipulative actions resembling those of common primates' foraging behaviors. On these bases, we propose that VLPFC may host an abstract "vocabulary" of the intended goals pursued by primates in their natural environment.