Perceptual decisions involve distributed cortical activity. Does information flow sequentially from one cortical area to another, or do networks of interconnected areas contribute at the same time? Here we delineate when and how activity in specific areas drives a whisker-based decision in mice. A short-term memory component temporally separated tactile "sensation" and "action" (licking). Using optogenetic inhibition (spatial resolution, 2 mm; temporal resolution, 100 ms), we surveyed the neocortex for regions driving behavior during specific behavioral epochs. Barrel cortex was critical for sensation. During the short-term memory, unilateral inhibition of anterior lateral motor cortex biased responses to the ipsilateral side. Consistently, barrel cortex showed stimulus-specific activity during sensation, whereas motor cortex showed choice-specific preparatory activity and movement-related activity, consistent with roles in motor planning and movement. These results suggest serial information flow from sensory to motor areas during perceptual decision making.
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