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Exp Brain Res. 2005 Oct;166(2):263-76. Epub 2005 Jul 21.

Functional significance of delay-period activity of primate prefrontal neurons in relation to spatial working memory and reward/omission-of-reward expectancy.

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Department of Psychology, Tokyo Metropolitan Institute for Neuroscience, Musashidai 2-6, Fuchu, Tokyo, 183-8526, Japan.


The lateral prefrontal cortex (LPFC) is important in cognitive control. During the delay period of a working memory (WM) task, primate LPFC neurons show sustained activity that is related to retaining task-relevant cognitive information in WM. However, it has not yet been determined whether LPFC delay neurons are concerned exclusively with the cognitive control of WM task performance. Recent studies have indicated that LPFC neurons also show reward and/or omission-of-reward expectancy-related delay activity, while the functional relationship between WM-related and reward/omission-of-reward expectancy-related delay activity remains unclear. To clarify the functional significance of LPFC delay-period activity for WM task performance, and particularly the functional relationship between these two types of activity, we examined individual delay neurons in the primate LPFC during spatial WM (delayed response) and non-WM (reward-no-reward delayed reaction) tasks. We found significant interactions between these two types of delay activity. The majority of the reward expectancy-related neurons and the minority of the omission-of-reward expectancy-related neurons were involved in spatial WM processes. Spatial WM-related neurons were more likely to be involved in reward expectancy than in omission-of-reward expectancy. In addition, LPFC delay neurons observed during the delayed response task were not concerned exclusively with the cognitive control of task performance; some were related to reward/omission-of-reward expectancy but not to WM, and many showed more memory-related activity for preferred rewards than for less-desirable rewards. Since employing a more preferred reward induced better task performance in the monkeys, as well as enhanced WM-related neuronal activity in the LPFC, the principal function of the LPFC appears to be the integration of cognitive and motivational operations in guiding the organism to obtain a reward more effectively.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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