Distributed coding of choice, action and engagement across the mouse brain

Nature. 2019 Dec;576(7786):266-273. doi: 10.1038/s41586-019-1787-x. Epub 2019 Nov 27.


Vision, choice, action and behavioural engagement arise from neuronal activity that may be distributed across brain regions. Here we delineate the spatial distribution of neurons underlying these processes. We used Neuropixels probes1,2 to record from approximately 30,000 neurons in 42 brain regions of mice performing a visual discrimination task3. Neurons in nearly all regions responded non-specifically when the mouse initiated an action. By contrast, neurons encoding visual stimuli and upcoming choices occupied restricted regions in the neocortex, basal ganglia and midbrain. Choice signals were rare and emerged with indistinguishable timing across regions. Midbrain neurons were activated before contralateral choices and were suppressed before ipsilateral choices, whereas forebrain neurons could prefer either side. Brain-wide pre-stimulus activity predicted engagement in individual trials and in the overall task, with enhanced subcortical but suppressed neocortical activity during engagement. These results reveal organizing principles for the distribution of neurons encoding behaviourally relevant variables across the mouse brain.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping
  • Choice Behavior*
  • Female
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Neurons
  • Reward
  • Task Performance and Analysis
  • Visual Perception