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Causal contributions of parietal cortex to perceptual decision-making during stimulus categorization


The posterior parietal cortex (PPC) has been implicated in perceptual decision-making and categorization, but whether its activity plays a causal role remains controversial. Here we examined the population dynamics of PPC activity during an auditory-guided decision task in mice. We found that silencing of PPC activity impaired several aspects of decision-making. First, categorization of new, but not well-learned, stimuli was impaired. Second, re-categorization of previously experienced stimuli based on newly learned categories was also impaired. Third, the bias on behavioral choices created by preceding trials significantly increased. In vivo two-photon imaging of PPC activity during stimulus categorization revealed differential dynamics in representations of new stimuli and learned categories, consistent with rapid incorporation of new sensory information during categorization. At the circuit level, inactivation of PPC axonal projections to the auditory cortex also significantly reduced categorization performance. Thus, PPC circuits play a causal role in decision-making during stimulus categorization.

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Data availability

All data used to understand and assess the conclusions of this study are available in the main text or supplementary materials. All the original behavioral, optogenetic, imaging and histochemical data are archived in the Institute of Neuroscience, Shanghai Institutes for Biological Sciences, Chinese Academy of Sciences, and are available from the corresponding author upon reasonable request.

Code availability

All data acquisition and analysis code are archived in the Institute of Neuroscience, Shanghai Institutes for Biological Sciences, Chinese Academy of Sciences, and are available from the corresponding author upon reasonable request.


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We thank R. Egnor for advice on auditory behavioral apparatus, A. Kerlin for communication on behavioral control software, N. Andersen for pilot optogenetic experiments, T.T. Zhou for technical support, L. Cui, S. Tang and J. Xiao for helping with behavior training, Y. Xin for discussions on data analysis, ION Gene-editing Core Facility for providing the adeno-associated viruses and M.M. Poo for comments on the manuscript. This work was supported by Key Research Program of Frontier Sciences, CAS (grant No. QYZDB-SSW-SMC045), National Natural Science Foundation of China (grant No. 31571081), the Strategic Priority Research Program of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (grant No. XDB32010000), National Key R&D Program of China (grant Nos. 2017YFA0103900/2017YFA0103901), Shanghai Municipal Science and Technology Major Project (grant No. 2018SHZDZX05) and the Youth Thousand Talents Plan (to N.L.X.). C.A.D. is supported by the Simons Collaboration on the Global Brain Postdoctoral Fellowship and the CPSF-CAS Joint Foundation for Excellent Postdoctoral Fellows.

Author information

L.Z. and N.L.X. conceived the project and designed the experiments. L.Z. performed all the experiments and data analysis. Y.Z. performed the axon inactivation experiments. L.Z. and C.A.D. conceived and performed the GLMM analysis. J.D. collected part of the behavioral data. L.Z., J.P. and N.L.X. developed the hardware and software for the behavior and imaging system. L.Z. and N.L.X. wrote the manuscript with contributions from C.A.D and Y.Z.

Correspondence to Ning-long Xu.

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The authors declare no competing interests.

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Journal peer review information Nature Neuroscience thanks Jonathan Whitlock and the other anonymous reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

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Supplementary information

Supplementary Figs. 1–17 and Supplementary Table 1.

Reporting Summary

Supplementary Video 1 Example of behavioral performance from a session with optogenetic silencing of PPC. The mouse was trained to report categorical decisions on low- or high-frequency tones by licking the left or right lickport. During a session of photoinhibition (optogenetic silencing of PPC), photoinhibition trials (blue light stimulation of bilateral PPC plus LED mask light, ‘optostim + LED’, trials 3 and 5 in the video) were randomly interleaved with control trials (‘LED only’, trials 1, 2 and 4 in the video).

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Fig. 1: Perceptual categorization of auditory stimulus in head-fixed mice.
Fig. 2: PPC activity is necessary for categorical decision-making on new sensory stimuli.
Fig. 3: PPC activity is not required for choice behavior at post-categorization stage.
Fig. 4: PPC neurons show stable representation for learned categories.
Fig. 5: PPC representations show evolving dynamics over learning.
Fig. 6: PPC activity counterbalances short-term history bias on perceptual decisions.
Fig. 7: PPC activity is required for stimulus re-categorization based on new decision boundaries.
Fig. 8: PPC-to-auditory cortex projections are necessary for categorical decision-making on new sensory stimuli.