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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2012 Nov 13;109(46):18938-43. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1216799109. Epub 2012 Oct 29.

Internal signal correlates neural populations and biases perceptual decision reports.

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Departamento de Física Teórica, Universidad Autónoma de Madrid, Cantoblanco 28049, Madrid, Spain.


In perceptual decision-making tasks the activity of neurons in frontal and posterior parietal cortices covaries more with perceptual reports than with the physical properties of stimuli. This relationship is revealed when subjects have to make behavioral choices about weak or uncertain stimuli. If knowledge about stimulus onset time is available, decision making can be based on accumulation of sensory evidence. However, the time of stimulus onset or even its very presence is often ambiguous. By analyzing firing rates and correlated variability of frontal lobe neurons while monkeys perform a vibrotactile detection task, we show that behavioral outcomes are crucially affected by the state of cortical networks before stimulus onset times. The results suggest that sensory detection is partly due to a purely internal signal whereas the stimulus, if finally applied, adds a contribution to this initial processing later on. The probability to detect or miss the stimulus can thus be explained as the combined effect of this variable internal signal and the sensory evidence.

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