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Neuron. 2009 Jul 30;63(2):244-53. doi: 10.1016/j.neuron.2009.06.019.

Learning substrates in the primate prefrontal cortex and striatum: sustained activity related to successful actions.

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The Picower Institute for Learning and Memory, Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, MA 02139, USA.


Learning from experience requires knowing whether a past action resulted in a desired outcome. The prefrontal cortex and basal ganglia are thought to play key roles in such learning of arbitrary stimulus-response associations. Previous studies have found neural activity in these areas, similar to dopaminergic neurons' signals, that transiently reflect whether a response is correct or incorrect. However, it is unclear how this transient activity, which fades in under a second, influences actions that occur much later. Here, we report that single neurons in both areas show sustained, persistent outcome-related responses. Moreover, single behavioral outcomes influence future neural activity and behavior: behavioral responses are more often correct and single neurons more accurately discriminate between the possible responses when the previous response was correct. These long-lasting signals about trial outcome provide a way to link one action to the next and may allow reward signals to be combined over time to implement successful learning.

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