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Nat Hum Behav. 2018 Jan;2(1):80-91. doi: 10.1038/s41562-017-0267-2. Epub 2017 Dec 18.

Persistent neuronal activity in human prefrontal cortex links perception and action.

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Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute, University of California, Berkeley, California, USA.
Department of Psychology, University of California, Berkeley, California, USA.
Department of Neurology, Johns Hopkins University Medical School, Baltimore, Maryland, USA.
Departments of Neurological Surgery and Physiology, UCSF Center for Integrative Neuroscience, University of California, San Francisco, California, USA.
Department of Neurology and Neurosurgery, California Pacific Medical Center, San Francisco, CA, USA.
Stanford Human Intracranial Cognitive Electrophysiology Program (SHICEP), Department of Neurology and Neurological Sciences, Stanford University, Stanford, California, USA.


How do humans flexibly respond to changing environmental demands on a sub-second temporal scale? Extensive research has highlighted the key role of the prefrontal cortex in flexible decision-making and adaptive behavior, yet the core mechanisms that translate sensory information into behavior remain undefined. Utilizing direct human cortical recordings, we investigated the temporal and spatial evolution of neuronal activity, indexed by the broadband gamma signal, while sixteen participants performed a broad range of self-paced cognitive tasks. Here we describe a robust domain- and modality-independent pattern of persistent stimulus-to-response neural activation that encodes stimulus features and predicts motor output on a trial-by-trial basis with near-perfect accuracy. Observed across a distributed network of brain areas, this persistent neural activation is centered in the prefrontal cortex and is required for successful response implementation, providing a functional substrate for domain-general transformation of perception into action, critical for flexible behavior.

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