Unit recordings in behaving animals have revealed the transformation of sensory to motor representations in cortical neurons. However, we still lack basic insights into the mechanisms by which neurons interact to generate such transformations. Here, we study cortical circuits related to behavioral control in mice engaged in a sensory detection task. We recorded neural activity using extracellular and intracellular techniques and analyzed the task-related neural dynamics to reveal underlying circuit processes. Within motor cortex, we find two populations of neurons that have opposing spiking patterns in anticipation of movement. From correlation analyses and circuit modeling, we suggest that these dynamics reflect neural ensembles engaged in a competition. Furthermore, we demonstrate how this competitive circuit may convert a transient, sensory stimulus into a motor command. Together, these data reveal cellular and circuit processes underlying behavioral control and establish an essential framework for future studies linking cellular activity to behavior.
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