Encoding Goals but Not Abstract Magnitude in the Primate Prefrontal Cortex
Aldo Genovesio, Satoshi Tsujimoto, Steven P. Wise
Neuron, Volume 74, Issue 4, 656-662, 24 May 2012
Functional neuroimaging studies show that perceptual judgments about time and space activate similar prefrontal and parietal areas, and it is known that perceptions in these two cognitive domains interfere with each other. These findings have led to the theory that temporal and spatial perceptions, among other metrics, draw on a common representation of magnitude. Our results indicate that an alternative principle applies to the prefrontal cortex. Analysis at the single-cell level shows that separate, domain-specific populations of neurons encode relative magnitude in time and space. These neurons are intermixed with each other in the prefrontal cortex, along with a separate intermixed population that encodes the goal chosen on the basis of these perceptual decisions. As a result, domain-specific neural processing at the single-cell level seems to underlie domain generality as observed at the regional level, with a common representation of prospective goals rather than a common representation of magnitude.