Alexandre Pastor-Bernier and Paul Cisek
The Journal of Neuroscience, 11 May 2011, 31(19): 7083-7088
It has been proposed that whenever an animal faces several action choices, their neural representations are processed in parallel in frontoparietal cortex and compete in a manner biased by any factor relevant to the decision. We tested this hypothesis by recording single-unit activity in dorsal premotor cortex (PMd) while a monkey performed two delayed center-out reaching tasks. In the one-target task, a single target was presented and its border style indicated its reward value. The two-target task was the same except two targets were presented and the value of each was varied. During the delay period of the one-target task, directionally tuned PMd activity showed no modulation with value. In contrast, during the two-target task, the same neurons showed strong effects of the value associated with their preferred target, always in relation to the value of the other target. Furthermore, the competition between action choices was strongest when targets were furthest apart. This angular distance effect appeared in neural activity as soon as cells became tuned, while modulation by relative value appeared much later. All of these findings can be reproduced by a computational model which suggests that decisions between actions are made through a biased competition taking place within a sensorimotor map of potential actions.