Prefrontal neurons code many kinds of behaviourally relevant visual information. In behaving monkeys, we used a cued target detection task to address coding of objects, behavioural categories and spatial locations, examining the temporal evolution of neural activity across dorsal and ventral regions of the lateral prefrontal cortex (encompassing parts of areas 9, 46, 45A and 8A), and across the two cerebral hemispheres. Within each hemisphere there was little evidence for regional specialisation, with neurons in dorsal and ventral regions showing closely similar patterns of selectivity for objects, categories and locations. For a stimulus in either visual field, however, there was a strong and temporally specific difference in response in the two cerebral hemispheres. In the first part of the visual response (50–250 ms from stimulus onset), processing in each hemisphere was largely restricted to contralateral stimuli, with strong responses to such stimuli, and selectivity for both object and category. Later (300–500 ms), responses to ipsilateral stimuli also appeared, many cells now responding more strongly to ipsilateral than to contralateral stimuli, and many showing selectivity for category. Activity on error trials showed that late activity in both hemispheres reflected the animal's final decision. As information is processed towards a behavioural decision, its encoding spreads to encompass large, bilateral regions of prefrontal cortex.
While monkeys categorised lateralised visual stimuli as targets or nontargets, neural activity was recorded in dorsal and ventral regions of the lateral prefrontal cortex. An early phase of category-selective activity in the contralateral hemisphere was followed by later, bilateral activity. The results suggest increasingly extensive frontal coding of task-relevant stimulus features as a decision progresses.