Neural sequences in primate prefrontal cortex encode working memory in naturalistic environments
Working memory is the ability to briefly remember and manipulate information after it becomes unavailable to the senses. The mechanisms supporting working memory coding in the primate brain remain controversial. Here we demonstrate that microcircuits in layers 2/3 of the primate lateral prefrontal cortex dynamically represent memory content in a naturalistic task through sequential activation of single neurons. We simultaneously recorded the activity of hundreds of neurons in the lateral
... tal cortex of macaque monkeys during a naturalistic visuospatial working memory task set in a virtual environment. We found that the sequential activation of single neurons encoded trajectories to target locations held in working memory. Neural sequences were not a mere successive activation of cells with memory fields at specific spatial locations, but an abstract representation of the subject's trajectory to the target. Neural sequences were less correlated to target trajectories during perception and were not found during working memory tasks lacking the spatiotemporal structure of the naturalistic task. Finally, ketamine administration distorted neural sequences, selectively decreasing working memory performance. Our results indicate that neurons in the lateral prefrontal cortex causally encode working memory in naturalistic conditions via complex and temporally precise activation patterns.