Spatially Tuned Neurons in Corvid Nidopallium Caudolaterale Signal Target Position During Visual Search

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The avian pallial endbrain area nidopallium caudolaterale (NCL) shows important similarities to mammalian prefrontal cortex in connectivity, dopamine neurochemistry, and function. Neuronal processing in NCL has been studied with respect to sensory, cognitive, and reward information, but little is known about its role in more direct control of motor behavior. We investigated NCL activity during the choice period of a delayed match-to-sample task, as 2 trained crows searched and selected a previously remembered visual target among an array of 4 pictures. The crows exhibited behavioral response patterns consistent with serial visual search. Many single NCL neurons were spatially tuned to specific target positions during visual search and directed motor behavior. Moreover, single NCL neurons dynamically changed their tuning properties to represent different behaviorally relevant task variables across the trial. In consecutive task periods, single neurons responded to visual stimuli, stored stimulus information in working memory, guided goal-directed behavior depending on the remembered target picture, and encoded trial outcomes. This flexible encoding of all task-relevant aspects in the executive control of goal-directed behavior represents a striking convergence to neuronal encoding in primate prefrontal cortex. These data highlight key properties of associative endbrain areas underlying flexible cognitive behavior in corvids and primates.

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