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PLoS One. 2013 Apr 22;8(4):e61503. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0061503. Print 2013.

Structure of spike count correlations reveals functional interactions between neurons in dorsolateral prefrontal cortex area 8a of behaving primates.

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Cognitive Neurophysiology Laboratory, Department of Physiology, McGill University, Montréal, Canada.


Neurons within the primate dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (dlPFC) are clustered in microcolumns according to their visuospatial tuning. One issue that remains poorly investigated is how this anatomical arrangement influences functional interactions between neurons during behavior. To investigate this question we implanted 4 mm×4 mm multielectrode arrays in two macaques' dlPFC area 8a and measured spike count correlations (rsc ) between responses of simultaneously recorded neurons when animals maintained stationary gaze. Positive and negative rsc were significantly higher than predicted by chance across a wide range of inter-neuron distances (from 0.4 to 4 mm). Positive rsc were stronger between neurons with receptive fields (RFs) separated by ≤90° of angular distance and progressively decreased as a function of inter-neuron physical distance. Negative rsc were stronger between neurons with RFs separated by >90° and increased as a function of inter-neuron distance. Our results show that short- and long-range functional interactions between dlPFC neurons depend on the physical distance between them and the relationship between their visuospatial tuning preferences. Neurons with similar visuospatial tuning show positive rsc that decay with inter-neuron distance, suggestive of excitatory interactions within and between adjacent microcolumns. Neurons with dissimilar tuning from spatially segregated microcolumns show negative rsc that increase with inter-neuron distance, suggestive of inhibitory interactions. This pattern of results shows that functional interactions between prefrontal neurons closely follow the pattern of connectivity reported in anatomical studies. Such interactions may be important for the role of the prefrontal cortex in the allocation of attention to targets in the presence of competing distracters.

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