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PLoS Biol. 2004 Nov;2(11):e365. Epub 2004 Oct 26.

Representation of attended versus remembered locations in prefrontal cortex.

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Laboratory of Systems Neuroscience, National Institute of Mental Health, Bethesda, Maryland, USA.


A great deal of research on the prefrontal cortex (PF), especially in nonhuman primates, has focused on the theory that it functions predominantly in the maintenance of short-term memories, and neurophysiologists have often interpreted PF's delay-period activity in the context of this theory. Neuroimaging results, however, suggest that PF's function extends beyond the maintenance of memories to include aspects of attention, such as the monitoring and selection of information. To explore alternative interpretations of PF's delay-period activity, we investigated the discharge rates of single PF neurons as monkeys attended to a stimulus marking one location while remembering a different, unmarked location. Both locations served as potential targets of a saccadic eye movement. Although the task made intensive demands on short-term memory, the largest proportion of PF neurons represented attended locations, not remembered ones. The present findings show that short-term memory functions cannot account for all, or even most, delay-period activity in the part of PF explored. Instead, PF's delay-period activity probably contributes more to the process of attentional selection.

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