Neural activity in the primate prefrontal cortex during associative learning

Neuron. 1998 Dec;21(6):1399-407. doi: 10.1016/s0896-6273(00)80658-3.


The prefrontal (PF) cortex has been implicated in the remarkable ability of primates to form and rearrange arbitrary associations rapidly. This ability was studied in two monkeys, using a task that required them to learn to make specific saccades in response to particular cues and then repeatedly reverse these responses. We found that the activity of individual PF neurons represented both the cues and the associated responses, perhaps providing a neural substrate for their association. Furthermore, during learning, neural activity conveyed the direction of the animals' impending responses progressively earlier within each successive trial. The final level of activity just before the response, however, was unaffected by learning. These results suggest a role for the PF cortex in learning arbitrary cue-response associations, an ability critical for complex behavior.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Association Learning / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping*
  • Eye Movements
  • Functional Laterality
  • Macaca mulatta / physiology*
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiology*
  • Reaction Time
  • Restraint, Physical
  • Saccades / physiology