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J Neurophysiol. 1995 Sep;74(3):1083-94.

Responses of cells in the tail of the caudate nucleus during visual discrimination learning.

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Laboratory of Neuropsychology, National Institute of Mental Health, Bethesda, Maryland 20892-4415, USA.


1. The tail of the caudate nucleus and adjacent ventral putamen (ventrocaudal neostriatum) are major projection sites of the extrastriate visual cortex. Visual information is then relayed, directly or indirectly, to a variety of structures with motor functions. To test for a role of the ventrocaudal neostriatum in stimulus-response association learning, or habit formation, neuronal responses were recorded while monkeys performed a visual discrimination task. Additional data were collected from cells in cortical area TF, which serve as a comparison and control for the caudate data. 2. Two monkeys were trained to perform an asymmetrically reinforced go-no go visual discrimination. The stimuli were complex colored patterns, randomly assigned to be either positive or negative. The monkey was rewarded with juice for releasing a bar when a positive stimulus was presented, whereas a negative stimulus signaled that no reward was available and that the monkey should withhold its response. Neuronal responses were recorded both while the monkey performed the task with previously learned stimuli and while it learned the task with new stimuli. In some cases, responses were recorded during reversal learning. 3. There was no evidence that cells in the ventrocaudal neostriatum were influenced by the reward contingencies of the task. Cells did not fire preferentially to the onset of either positive or negative stimuli; neither did cells fire in response to the reward itself or in association with the motor response of the monkey. Only visual responses were apparent. 4. The visual properties of cells in these structures resembled those of cells in some of the cortical areas projecting to them. Most cells responded selectively to different visual stimuli. The degree of stimulus selectivity was assessed with discriminant analysis and was found to be quantitatively similar to that of inferior temporal cells tested with similar stimuli. Likewise, like inferior temporal cells, many cells in the ventrocaudal neostriatum had large, bilateral receptive fields. Some cells had "doughnut"-shaped receptive fields, with stronger responses in the periphery of both visual fields than at the fovea, similar to the fields of some cells in the superior temporal polysensory area. Although the absence of task-specific responses argues that ventrocaudal neostriatal cells are not themselves the mediators of visual learning in the task employed, their cortical-like visual properties suggest that they might relay visual information important for visuomotor plasticity in other structures. (ABSTRACT TRUNCATED AT 400 WORDS).

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