Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2020 Jul 21;117(29):17278-17287. doi: 10.1073/pnas.2000523117. Epub 2020 Jul 6.
The prefrontal cortex (PFC) plays a critical role in curbing impulsive behavior, but the underlying circuit mechanism remains incompletely understood. Here we show that a subset of dorsomedial PFC (dmPFC) layer 5 pyramidal neurons, which project to the subthalamic nucleus (STN) of the basal ganglia, play a key role in inhibiting impulsive responses in a go/no-go task. Projection-specific labeling and calcium imaging showed that the great majority of STN-projecting neurons were preferentially active in no-go trials when the mouse successfully withheld licking responses, but lateral hypothalamus (LH)-projecting neurons were more active in go trials with licking; visual cortex (V1)-projecting neurons showed only weak task-related activity. Optogenetic activation and inactivation of STN-projecting neurons reduced and increased inappropriate licking, respectively, partly through their direct innervation of the STN, but manipulating LH-projecting neurons had the opposite effects. These results identify a projection-defined subtype of PFC pyramidal neurons as key mediators of impulse control.