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Free choice activates a decision circuit between frontal and parietal cortex


We often face alternatives that we are free to choose between. Planning movements to select an alternative involves several areas in frontal and parietal cortex1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,10,11 that are anatomically connected into long-range circuits12. These areas must coordinate their activity to select a common movement goal, but how neural circuits make decisions remains poorly understood. Here we simultaneously record from the dorsal premotor area (PMd) in frontal cortex and the parietal reach region (PRR) in parietal cortex to investigate neural circuit mechanisms for decision making. We find that correlations in spike and local field potential (LFP) activity between these areas are greater when monkeys are freely making choices than when they are following instructions. We propose that a decision circuit featuring a sub-population of cells in frontal and parietal cortex may exchange information to coordinate activity between these areas. Cells participating in this decision circuit may influence movement choices by providing a common bias to the selection of movement goals.

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Figure 1: Task and behaviour.
Figure 2: PMd–PRR spike–field coherence.
Figure 3: Spike response latencies.
Figure 4: Receiver-operating characteristic choice probability estimated from the firing rate for neurons with and without significant PMd–PRR spike–field coherence.


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This work was supported by the National Eye Institute, the National Institute of Mental Health, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency BioInfoMicro program, a Career Award in the Biomedical Sciences from the Burroughs Wellcome Fund (B.P.), a James D. Watson Investigator Program Award from NYSTAR (B.P.) and a Sloan Research Fellowship (B.P.). We thank: N. Daw, H. Dean and D. Heeger for comments; T. Yao for editorial assistance; K. Pejsa and N. Sammons for animal care; and V. Shcherbatyuk and M. Walsh for technical assistance.

Author Contributions B.P., M.J.N. and R.A.A. designed the experiment and wrote the paper. B.P. and M.J.N. collected the data. B.P. performed the data analysis.

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Correspondence to Bijan Pesaran.

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Supplementary information

The file contains Supplementary Methods; Supplementary Results; Supplementary Discussion; Supplementary References; Supplementary Figures 1-10 and Legends and Supplementary Tables 1-2 (PDF 2997 kb)

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Pesaran, B., Nelson, M. & Andersen, R. Free choice activates a decision circuit between frontal and parietal cortex. Nature 453, 406–409 (2008).

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