The hierarchical organization of decision making in the primate prefrontal cortex

Neurosci Res. 1999 Jul;34(2):79-89. doi: 10.1016/s0168-0102(99)00038-3.


The prefrontal cortex plays an important role in making the association between sensory information and specific behavior. For example, in a complex stimulus response situation, such as the Wisconsin card sorting test, prefrontal patients show difficulty in making appropriate decisions. To understand the neural mechanisms, we recorded prefrontal cell activity while monkeys performed a go/no-go selective attention task where the subjects made a go or no-go response depending on the color or the motion direction of compound visual stimuli (moving colored dots). Groups of cells showed differential activity for go and no-go stimuli (go/no-go activity): some showed the activity either in the color or motion attending condition, and others showed the activity both in the color and motion conditions. Cells of shorter latencies, found mainly in the prefrontal subareas receiving visual input, showed go/no-go activity only when task demands necessitated that the monkeys attended to that cell's preferred visual dimension. We also found cells with longer latencies in the motor-related periarcuate area that showed go/no-go activity regardless of the dimension attended. These results suggest that subareas in the prefrontal cortex play different roles in associating the sensory information with its behavioral meaning and are hierarchically organized to make appropriate decisions in complex tasks.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Choice Behavior / physiology*
  • Decision Making / physiology*
  • Discrimination Learning / physiology*
  • Electrophysiology
  • Macaca
  • Neurons / physiology
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiology*
  • Reaction Time / physiology
  • Visual Pathways / physiology