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Neuron. 1998 Dec;21(6):1399-407.

Neural activity in the primate prefrontal cortex during associative learning.

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Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences and The Center for Learning and Memory, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge 02139, USA.


The prefrontal (PF) cortex has been implicated in the remarkable ability of primates to form and rearrange arbitrary associations rapidly. This ability was studied in two monkeys, using a task that required them to learn to make specific saccades in response to particular cues and then repeatedly reverse these responses. We found that the activity of individual PF neurons represented both the cues and the associated responses, perhaps providing a neural substrate for their association. Furthermore, during learning, neural activity conveyed the direction of the animals' impending responses progressively earlier within each successive trial. The final level of activity just before the response, however, was unaffected by learning. These results suggest a role for the PF cortex in learning arbitrary cue-response associations, an ability critical for complex behavior.

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