Dynamic shifts of visual and saccadic signals in prefrontal cortical regions 8Ar and FEF

J Neurophysiol. 2020 Dec 1;124(6):1774-1791. doi: 10.1152/jn.00669.2019. Epub 2020 Oct 7.


Active vision is a fundamental process by which primates gather information about the external world. Multiple brain regions have been studied in the context of simple active vision tasks in which a visual target's appearance is temporally separated from saccade execution. Most neurons have tight spatial registration between visual and saccadic signals, and in areas such as prefrontal cortex (PFC), some neurons show persistent delay activity that links visual and motor epochs and has been proposed as a basis for spatial working memory. Many PFC neurons also show rich dynamics, which have been attributed to alternative working memory codes and the representation of other task variables. Our study investigated the transition between processing a visual stimulus and generating an eye movement in populations of PFC neurons in macaque monkeys performing a memory guided saccade task. We found that neurons in two subregions of PFC, the frontal eye fields (FEF) and area 8Ar, differed in their dynamics and spatial response profiles. These dynamics could be attributed largely to shifts in the spatial profile of visual and motor responses in individual neurons. This led to visual and motor codes for particular spatial locations that were instantiated by different mixtures of neurons, which could be important in PFC's flexible role in multiple sensory, cognitive, and motor tasks.NEW & NOTEWORTHY A central question in neuroscience is how the brain transitions from sensory representations to motor outputs. The prefrontal cortex contains neurons that have long been implicated as important in this transition and in working memory. We found evidence for rich and diverse tuning in these neurons, which was often spatially misaligned between visual and saccadic responses. This feature may play an important role in flexible working memory capabilities.

Keywords: dynamics; frontal eye fields; prefrontal cortex; receptive field; saccade; working memory.

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
  • Electrocorticography
  • Macaca mulatta
  • Male
  • Memory, Short-Term / physiology*
  • Motor Activity / physiology*
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiology*
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology*
  • Saccades / physiology*
  • Visual Perception / physiology*