Prefrontal deep projection neurons enable cognitive flexibility via persistent feedback monitoring

Cell. 2021 May 13;184(10):2750-2766.e17. doi: 10.1016/j.cell.2021.03.047. Epub 2021 Apr 15.


Cognitive flexibility, the ability to alter strategy according to changing stimulus-response-reward relationships, is critical for updating learned behavior. Attentional set-shifting, a test of cognitive flexibility, depends on the activity of prefrontal cortex (PFC). It remains unclear, however, what role PFC neurons play to support set-shifting. Using optogenetics and two-photon calcium imaging, we demonstrate that medial PFC activity does not bias sensorimotor responses during set-shifting, but rather enables set-shifting by encoding trial feedback information, a role it has been known to play in other contexts. Unexpectedly, the functional properties of PFC cells did not vary with their efferent projection targets. Instead, representations of trial feedback formed a topological gradient, with cells more strongly selective for feedback information located further from the pial surface, where afferent input from the anterior cingulate cortex was denser. These findings identify a critical role for deep PFC projection neurons in enabling set-shifting through behavioral feedback monitoring.

Keywords: attention; calcium imaging; cognitive flexibility; infralimbic; prelimbic.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Cognition / physiology*
  • Male
  • Mice
  • Mice, Inbred C57BL
  • Neurofeedback*
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiology*