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Categorization of behavioural sequences in the prefrontal cortex


Although it has long been thought that the prefrontal cortex of primates is involved in the integrative regulation of behaviours1,2,3,4, the neural architecture underlying specific aspects of cognitive behavioural planning has yet to be clarified5,6,7,8. If subjects are required to remember a large number of complex motor sequences and plan to execute each of them individually, categorization of the sequences according to the specific temporal structure inherent in each subset of sequences serves to facilitate higher-order planning based on memory. Here we show, using these requirements, that cells in the lateral prefrontal cortex selectively exhibit activity for a specific category of behavioural sequences, and that categories of behaviours, embodied by different types of movement sequences, are represented in prefrontal cells during the process of planning. This cellular activity implies the generation of neural representations capable of storing structured event complexes at an abstract level, exemplifying the development of macro-structured action knowledge in the lateral prefrontal cortex9.

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Figure 1: Activity of PF cells selective for a category of sequences during planning.
Figure 2: Time courses of the activity of cell populations showing category selectivity and a comparison of cellular activity before the monkey executed the correct or an incorrect sequence.
Figure 3: Plots of the predictive activity of 135 PF cells.


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This work was supported by a Grant-in-Aid for Scientific Research on Priority Areas from the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology of Japan.

Author Contributions K.S. and J.T. performed all aspects of the study, including the design of the experiment, collecting and analysing the data, and writing the manuscript. M.I. assisted in experimental design and in collecting the data. H.M. assisted in data analysis and manuscript preparation.

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Correspondence to Jun Tanji.

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Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

This file contains Supplementary Methods, Supplementary Figures 1-6 with legends, and Supplementary Data. Figure 1 is for a schematic of the main finding, and Figure 2 is for illustrating the behavioral task. The supplementary Figures 3 and 4 collectively show that the variations of preparatory activity of each PF cell for sequences belonging to one category were small, whereas the variations for sequences belonging to different categories were large. The supplementary Figure 5 shows how the category selective activity developed during performance of successive trials. The Supplementary Figure 6 presents the category selectivity during the time epoch preceding the preparatory period. Finally, the Supplementary Data includes information about the behavioral data for error trials, results of analysis on 21 cells during performance of error trials, the comparison of data obtained in dorsal and ventral PF, and the category selectivity during the inter-trial interval. (PDF 891 kb)

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Shima, K., Isoda, M., Mushiake, H. et al. Categorization of behavioural sequences in the prefrontal cortex. Nature 445, 315–318 (2007).

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