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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2007 Sep 4;104(36):14513-8. Epub 2007 Aug 27.

Neuronal population coding of continuous and discrete quantity in the primate posterior parietal cortex.

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Primate NeuroCognition Laboratory, Hertie Institute for Clinical Brain Research, Department of Cognitive Neurology, University of Tübingen, Otfried-Müller-Strasse 27, 72076 Tübingen, Germany.


Quantitative knowledge guides vital decisions in the life of animals and humans alike. The posterior parietal cortex in primates has been implicated in representing abstract quantity, both continuous (extent) and discrete (number of items), supporting the idea of a putative generalized magnitude system in this brain area. Whether or not single neurons encode different types of quantity, or how quantitative information is represented in the neuronal responses, however, is unknown. We show that length and numerosity are encoded by functionally overlapping groups of parietal neurons. Using a statistical classifier, we found that the activity of populations of quantity-selective neurons contained accurate information about continuous and discrete quantity. Unexpectedly, even neurons that were nonselective according to classical spike-count measures conveyed robust categorical information that predicted the monkeys' quantity judgments. Thus, different information-carrying processes of partly intermingled neuronal networks in the parietal lobe seem to encode various forms of abstract quantity.

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