Letter | Published:

Dissociated functional significance of decision-related activity in the primate dorsal stream

Nature volume 535, pages 285288 (14 July 2016) | Download Citation

Abstract

During decision making, neurons in multiple brain regions exhibit responses that are correlated with decisions1,2,3,4,5,6. However, it remains uncertain whether or not various forms of decision-related activity are causally related to decision making7,8,9. Here we address this question by recording and reversibly inactivating the lateral intraparietal (LIP) and middle temporal (MT) areas of rhesus macaques performing a motion direction discrimination task. Neurons in area LIP exhibited firing rate patterns that directly resembled the evidence accumulation process posited to govern decision making2,10, with strong correlations between their response fluctuations and the animal’s choices. Neurons in area MT, in contrast, exhibited weak correlations between their response fluctuations and choices, and had firing rate patterns consistent with their sensory role in motion encoding1. The behavioural impact of pharmacological inactivation of each area was inversely related to their degree of decision-related activity: while inactivation of neurons in MT profoundly impaired psychophysical performance, inactivation in LIP had no measurable impact on decision-making performance, despite having silenced the very clusters that exhibited strong decision-related activity. Although LIP inactivation did not impair psychophysical behaviour, it did influence spatial selection and oculomotor metrics in a free-choice control task. The absence of an effect on perceptual decision making was stable over trials and sessions and was robust to changes in stimulus type and task geometry, arguing against several forms of compensation. Thus, decision-related signals in LIP do not appear to be critical for computing perceptual decisions, and may instead reflect secondary processes. Our findings highlight a dissociation between decision correlation and causation, showing that strong neuron-decision correlations do not necessarily offer direct access to the neural computations underlying decisions.

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Acknowledgements

We thank R. Krauzlis, C. Brody, E. Seidemann, L. Cormack, and R. Aldrich for comments on the manuscript. We thank the Brody laboratory (particularly C. Brody and J. Erlich) for inspiring the experiments, the Mauk laboratory (particularly M. Mauk, F. Riusech, and H. Halverson) for assistance with muscimol preparation, and K. Mitchell for animal support. This research was supported by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute International Student Research Fellowship to L.N.K., the McKnight Foundation grant to J.W.P., the National Eye Institute (R01-EY017366) grant to both J.W.P, and A.C.H., and the National Institutes of Health under Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Awards T32DA018926 from the National Institute on Drug Abuse and T32EY021462 from the National Eye Institute.

Author information

Author notes

    • Leor N. Katz
    •  & Jacob L. Yates

    These authors contributed equally to this work.

Affiliations

  1. Center for Perceptual Systems, Departments of Neuroscience & Psychology, The University of Texas at Austin, Austin, Texas 78712, USA

    • Leor N. Katz
    • , Jacob L. Yates
    •  & Alexander C. Huk
  2. Princeton Neuroscience Institute & Department of Psychology, Princeton University, Princeton, New Jersey 08540, USA

    • Jonathan W. Pillow

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Contributions

L.N.K., J.L.Y. and A.C.H. designed the experiments. L.N.K. and J.L.Y. collected behavioural and electrophysiological data. L.N.K. and J.L.Y. performed pharmacological inactivations. L.N.K. analysed behavioural data. J.L.Y. analysed electrophysiological data. J.W.P. and A.C.H. guided data analysis. All authors discussed the results and wrote the manuscript.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Leor N. Katz.

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DOI

https://doi.org/10.1038/nature18617

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