An essential feature of goal-directed behavior is the ability to selectively respond to the diverse stimuli in one's environment. However, the neural mechanisms that enable us to respond to target stimuli while ignoring distractor stimuli are poorly understood. To study this sensory selection process, we trained male and female mice in a selective detection task in which mice learn to respond to rapid stimuli in the target whisker field and ignore identical stimuli in the opposite, distractor whisker field. In expert mice, we used widefield Ca2+ imaging to analyze target-related and distractor-related neural responses throughout dorsal cortex. For target stimuli, we observed strong signal activation in primary somatosensory cortex (S1) and frontal cortices, including both the whisker region of primary motor cortex (wMC) and anterior lateral motor cortex (ALM). For distractor stimuli, we observed strong signal activation in S1, with minimal propagation to frontal cortex. Our data support only modest subcortical filtering, with robust, step-like attenuation in distractor processing between mono-synaptically coupled regions of S1 and wMC. This study establishes a highly robust model system for studying the neural mechanisms of sensory selection and places important constraints on its implementation.SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT Responding to task-relevant stimuli while ignoring task-irrelevant stimuli is critical for goal-directed behavior. However, the neural mechanisms involved in this selection process are poorly understood. We trained mice in a detection task with both target and distractor stimuli. During expert performance, we measured neural activity throughout cortex using widefield imaging. We observed responses to target stimuli in multiple sensory and motor cortical regions. In contrast, responses to distractor stimuli were abruptly suppressed beyond sensory cortex. Our findings localize the sites of attenuation when successfully ignoring a distractor stimulus and provide essential foundations for further revealing the neural mechanism of sensory selection and distractor suppression.
Keywords: attenuating filter; neocortex; sensorimotor; sensory selection; somatosensory; widefield imaging.
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