Differences between neural activity in prefrontal cortex and striatum during learning of novel abstract categories

Neuron. 2011 Jul 28;71(2):243-9. doi: 10.1016/j.neuron.2011.05.040.


Learning to classify diverse experiences into meaningful groups, like categories, is fundamental to normal cognition. To understand its neural basis, we simultaneously recorded from multiple electrodes in lateral prefrontal cortex and dorsal striatum, two interconnected brain structures critical for learning. Each day, monkeys learned to associate novel abstract, dot-based categories with a right versus left saccade. Early on, when they could acquire specific stimulus-response associations, striatum activity was an earlier predictor of the corresponding saccade. However, as the number of exemplars increased and monkeys had to learn to classify them, PFC activity began to predict the saccade associated with each category before the striatum. While monkeys were categorizing novel exemplars at a high rate, PFC activity was a strong predictor of their corresponding saccade early in the trial before the striatal neurons. These results suggest that striatum plays a greater role in stimulus-response association and PFC in abstraction of categories.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Association Learning / physiology*
  • Behavior, Animal
  • Choice Behavior
  • Corpus Striatum / cytology
  • Corpus Striatum / physiology*
  • Cues
  • Evoked Potentials / physiology
  • Macaca mulatta
  • Neural Pathways / physiology
  • Neurons / physiology
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Prefrontal Cortex / cytology
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiology*
  • Reaction Time
  • Saccades / physiology