Timecourse of object-related neural activity in the primate prefrontal cortex during a short-term memory task

Eur J Neurosci. 2002 Apr;15(7):1244-54. doi: 10.1046/j.1460-9568.2002.01958.x.


We studied the timecourse of neural activity in the primate (Macacca mulatta) prefrontal (PF) cortex during an object delayed-matching-to-sample (DMS) task. To assess the effects of experience on this timecourse, we conducted the task using both novel and highly familiar objects. In addition, noise patterns containing no task-relevant information were used as samples on some trials. Comparison of average PF ensemble activity relative to baseline activity generated by objects and noise patterns revealed three distinct activity periods. (i) Sample onset elicited a transient sensory visual response. In this sensory period, novel objects elicited stronger average ensemble activity than both familiar objects and noise patterns. (ii) An intermediate period of elevated activity followed, which began before sample offset, and continued well into the delay period. In the intermediate period, activity was elevated for noise patterns and novel objects, but near baseline for familiar objects. (iii) Finally, after average ensemble activity reached baseline activity at the end of the intermediate period, a reactivation period occurred late in the delay. Experience had little effect during reactivation, where activity was elevated for both novel and familiar objects compared to noise patterns. We show that the ensemble average resembles the activity timecourse of many single prefrontal neurons. These results suggest that PF delay activity does not merely maintain recent sensory input, but is subject to more complex experience-dependent dynamics. This has implications for how delay activity is generated and maintained.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Acoustic Stimulation
  • Action Potentials / physiology*
  • Animals
  • Auditory Perception / physiology
  • Behavior, Animal / physiology
  • Female
  • Macaca mulatta / anatomy & histology
  • Macaca mulatta / physiology*
  • Male
  • Memory, Short-Term / physiology*
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Pattern Recognition, Visual / physiology*
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Prefrontal Cortex / anatomy & histology
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiology*
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology
  • Reaction Time / physiology*
  • Time Factors