Fast and slow transitions in frontal ensemble activity during flexible sensorimotor behavior

Nat Neurosci. 2016 Sep;19(9):1234-42. doi: 10.1038/nn.4342. Epub 2016 Jul 11.


The ability to shift between repetitive and goal-directed actions is a hallmark of cognitive control. Previous studies have reported that adaptive shifts in behavior are accompanied by changes of neural activity in frontal cortex. However, neural and behavioral adaptations can occur at multiple time scales, and their relationship remains poorly defined. Here we developed an adaptive sensorimotor decision-making task for head-fixed mice, requiring them to shift flexibly between multiple auditory-motor mappings. Two-photon calcium imaging of secondary motor cortex (M2) revealed different ensemble activity states for each mapping. When adapting to a conditional mapping, transitions in ensemble activity were abrupt and occurred before the recovery of behavioral performance. By contrast, gradual and delayed transitions accompanied shifts toward repetitive responding. These results demonstrate distinct ensemble signatures associated with the start versus end of sensory-guided behavior and suggest that M2 leads in engaging goal-directed response strategies that require sensorimotor associations.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Behavior, Animal / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping / methods
  • Cues
  • Decision Making / physiology*
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Mice, Transgenic
  • Motor Cortex / physiology*
  • Photic Stimulation / methods
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology*
  • Reaction Time / physiology