Cognitive strategies shift information from single neurons to populations in prefrontal cortex

December 21, 2021

Neuron. 2022 Feb 16;110(4):709-721.e4. doi: 10.1016/j.neuron.2021.11.021. Epub 2021 Dec 20.


Neurons in primate lateral prefrontal cortex (LPFC) play a critical role in working memory (WM) and cognitive strategies. Consistent with adaptive coding models, responses of these neurons are not fixed but flexibly adjust on the basis of cognitive demands. However, little is known about how these adjustments affect population codes. Here, we investigated ensemble coding in LPFC while monkeys implemented different strategies in a WM task. Although single neurons were less tuned when monkeys used more stereotyped strategies, task information could still be accurately decoded from neural populations. This was due to changes in population codes that distributed information among a greater number of neurons, each contributing less to the overall population. Moreover, this shift occurred for task-relevant, but not irrelevant, information. These results demonstrate that cognitive strategies that impose structure on information held in mind rearrange population codes in LPFC, such that information becomes more distributed among neurons in an ensemble.

PMID:34932940 | PMC:PMC8857053 | DOI:10.1016/j.neuron.2021.11.021