Electrophysiological Correlates of a Versatile Executive Control System in the Monkey Anterior Cingulate Cortex

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When a subject faces conflicting situations, decision-making becomes uncertain. The human dorsal anterior cingulate cortex (dACC) has been repeatedly implicated in the monitoring of such situations, and its neural activity is thought to be involved in behavioral adjustment. However, this hypothesis is mainly based on neuroimaging results and is challenged by animal studies that failed to report any neuronal correlates of conflict monitoring. This discrepancy is thought be due either to methodological or more fundamental cross-species differences. In this study, we eliminated methodological biases and recorded single-neuron activity in monkeys performing a Stroop-like task. We found specific changes in dACC activity during incongruent trials but only in a small subpopulation of cells. Critically, these changes were not related to reaction time and were absent before any incorrect action was taken. A larger fraction of neurons exhibited sustained activity during the whole decision period, whereas another subpopulation of neurons was modulated by reaction time, with a gradual increase in their firing rate that peaked at movement onset. Most of the neurons found in these subpopulations exhibited activity after the delivery of an external negative feedback stimulus that indicated an error had been made. These findings, which are consistent with an executive control role, reconcile various theories of prefrontal cortex function and support the homology between human and monkey cognitive architectures.

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