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Nat Neurosci. 2019 Oct;22(10):1677-1686. doi: 10.1038/s41593-019-0502-4. Epub 2019 Sep 24.

Single-trial neural dynamics are dominated by richly varied movements.

Author information

Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, Neuroscience, Cold Spring Harbor, NY, USA.
Department of Organismal Biology and Anatomy, The University of Chicago, Chicago, IL, USA.
The Grossman Institute for Neuroscience, Quantitative Biology and Human Behavior, The University of Chicago, Chicago, IL, USA.
Division of Biological Sciences, University of California, San Diego, San Diego, CA, USA.
Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, Neuroscience, Cold Spring Harbor, NY, USA.


When experts are immersed in a task, do their brains prioritize task-related activity? Most efforts to understand neural activity during well-learned tasks focus on cognitive computations and task-related movements. We wondered whether task-performing animals explore a broader movement landscape and how this impacts neural activity. We characterized movements using video and other sensors and measured neural activity using widefield and two-photon imaging. Cortex-wide activity was dominated by movements, especially uninstructed movements not required for the task. Some uninstructed movements were aligned to trial events. Accounting for them revealed that neurons with similar trial-averaged activity often reflected utterly different combinations of cognitive and movement variables. Other movements occurred idiosyncratically, accounting for trial-by-trial fluctuations that are often considered 'noise'. This held true throughout task-learning and for extracellular Neuropixels recordings that included subcortical areas. Our observations argue that animals execute expert decisions while performing richly varied, uninstructed movements that profoundly shape neural activity.

[Available on 2020-03-24]
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