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J Neurosci. 2012 May 2;32(18):6161-9. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.6365-11.2012.

Neural correlates of a decision variable before learning to perform a match/non-match task.

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Department of Neurobiology and Anatomy, Wake Forest University School of Medicine, Winston-Salem, North Carolina 27157, USA.


The lateral prefrontal cortex plays an important role in working memory and decision-making, although little is known about how neural correlates of these functions are shaped by learning. To understand the effect of learning on the neuronal representation of decision-making, we recorded single neurons from the lateral prefrontal cortex of monkeys before and after they were trained to judge whether two stimuli appeared at matching spatial locations. After training, and in agreement with previous studies, a population of neurons exhibited activity that was modulated depending on whether the second stimulus constituted a match or not, which had predictive ability for the monkey's choice. However, even before training, prefrontal neurons displayed modulation depending on the match or non-match status of a stimulus, with approximately equal percentages of neurons preferring a match or a non-match. The difference in firing rate and discriminability for match and non-match stimuli before training was of comparable magnitude as that after training. Changes observed after training involved an increase in the percentage of neurons exhibiting this effect, a greater proportion of neurons preferring non-match stimuli, and a greater percentage of neurons representing information about the first stimulus during the presentation of the second stimulus. Our results suggest that the neuronal activity representing some match/non-match judgments is present in the lateral prefrontal cortex even when subjects are not required to perform a comparison and before any training.

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