A fundamental problem in neurobiology is to understand how brain circuits represent sensory information and how such representations give rise to perception, memory and decision-making. We demonstrate that a sensory stimulus engages multiple areas of the cerebral cortex, including primary sensory, prefrontal, premotor and motor cortices. As information transverses the cortical circuits it shows progressively more relation to perception, memory and decision reports. In particular, we show how somatosensory areas on the parietal lobe generate a parameterized representation of a tactile stimulus. This representation is maintained in working memory by prefrontal and premotor areas of the frontal lobe. The presentation of a second stimulus, that monkeys are trained to compare with the first, generates decision-related activity reflecting which stimulus had the higher frequency. Importantly, decision-related activity is observed across several cortical circuits including prefrontal, premotor and parietal cortices. Sensory information is encoded by neuronal populations with opposite tuning, and suggests that a simple subtraction operation could be the underlying mechanism by which past and present sensory information is compared to generate perceptual decisions.
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