From rule to response: neuronal processes in the premotor and prefrontal cortex

J Neurophysiol. 2003 Sep;90(3):1790-806. doi: 10.1152/jn.00086.2003. Epub 2003 May 7.


The ability to use abstract rules or principles allows behavior to generalize from specific circumstances (e.g., rules learned in a specific restaurant can subsequently be applied to any dining experience). Neurons in the prefrontal cortex (PFC) encode such rules. However, to guide behavior, rules must be linked to motor responses. We investigated the neuronal mechanisms underlying this process by recording from the PFC and the premotor cortex (PMC) of monkeys trained to use two abstract rules: "same" or "different." The monkeys had to either hold or release a lever, depending on whether two successively presented pictures were the same or different, and depending on which rule was in effect. The abstract rules were represented in both regions, although they were more prevalent and were encoded earlier and more strongly in the PMC. There was a perceptual bias in the PFC, relative to the PMC, with more PFC neurons encoding the presented pictures. In contrast, neurons encoding the behavioral response were more prevalent in the PMC, and the selectivity was stronger and appeared earlier in the PMC than in the PFC.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Female
  • Macaca mulatta
  • Male
  • Motor Cortex / physiology*
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Photic Stimulation / methods
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiology*
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology*
  • Reaction Time / physiology*