To examine functional roles of the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) in visuomotor association learning, neuronal activity in the mPFC of a behaving monkey was recorded during this learning. The monkey was presented a cueing visual stimulus, and required to push, pull or turn a manipulator according to the cue following a delay period. Under the control condition, three cues (circle, triangle and square) instructed the monkey to the three responses in a block of trials. After 2 months of training the animal was familiar with these cue-response associations. Under the learning condition, two of the three familiar cues and one novel cue were presented in a block. The monkey initially did not know what the novel cue instructed at first and learned a new cue-response association by trial and error. Neurons in the mPFC showed marked responses to cue presentation, and cue responses changed depending on whether cues were familiar or novel. A group of mPFC neurons responded to novel cues, but not to familiar cues. Another group of neurons responded to familiar cues, but not to novel cues. In a subgroup of these familiar cue-selective neurons, cue response was increased under the learning condition compared to the control condition. These results suggest that mPFC neurons differentiate between familiar and novel instructions, and that the neurons responsive to familiar stimuli enhance their modulations when both familiar and novel instructions have to be processed during task performance.
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