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Cycles of goal silencing and reactivation underlie complex problem-solving in primate frontal and parietal cortex.

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While classic views proposed that working memory (WM) is mediated by sustained firing, recent evidence suggests a contribution of activity-silent states. Within WM, human neuroimaging studies suggest a switch between attentional foreground and background, with only the foregrounded item represented in active neural firing. To address this process at the cellular level, we recorded prefrontal (PFC) and posterior parietal (PPC) neurons in a complex problem-solving task, with monkeys searching for one or two target locations in a first cycle of trials, and retaining them for memory-guided revisits on subsequent cycles. When target locations were discovered, neither frontal nor parietal neurons showed sustained goal-location codes continuing into subsequent trials and cycles. Instead there were sequences of timely goal silencing and reactivation, and following reactivation, sustained states until behavioral response. With two target locations, goal representations in both regions showed evidence of transitions between foreground and background, but the PFC representation was more complete, extending beyond the current trial to include both past and future selections. In the absence of unbroken sustained codes, different neuronal states interact to support maintenance and retrieval of WM representations across successive trials.


Acknowledgements: This work was supported by the Medical Research Council intramural programme MC_UU_00030/7 (J.D.), the Wellcome Trust grant 101092/Z/13/Z (J.D.), the Overseas Research Fellowships, Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS) (K.W.), and the Grant-in-Aid for Scientific Research (C) 21K03141 and T22K06480a, JSPS (K.W.).


Humans, Animals, Goals, Primates, Parietal Lobe, Neurons, Memory, Short-Term

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Nat Commun

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Springer Science and Business Media LLC
Medical Research Council (MC_UU_00005/6)