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Stable and dynamic representations of value in the prefrontal cortex

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Elife. 2020 Jul 6;9:e54313. doi: 10.7554/eLife.54313.


Optimal decision-making requires that stimulus-value associations are kept up to date by constantly comparing the expected value of a stimulus with its experienced outcome. To do this, value information must be held in mind when a stimulus and outcome are separated in time. However, little is known about the neural mechanisms of working memory (WM) for value. Contradicting theories have suggested WM requires either persistent or transient neuronal activity, with stable or dynamic representations, respectively. To test these hypotheses, we recorded neuronal activity in the orbitofrontal and anterior cingulate cortex of two monkeys performing a valuation task. We found that features of all hypotheses were simultaneously present in prefrontal activity, and no single hypothesis was exclusively supported. Instead, mixed dynamics supported robust, time invariant value representations while also encoding the information in a temporally specific manner. We suggest that this hybrid coding is a critical mechanism supporting flexible cognitive abilities.

PMID:32628108 | PMC:PMC7390599 | DOI:10.7554/eLife.54313

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