Flexible interpretation of a decision rule by supplementary eye field neurons

S. J. Heinen, H. Hwang, S. N. Yang

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

6 Scopus citations


Since the environment is in constant flux, decision-making capabilities of the brain must be rapid and flexible. Yet in sensory motion processing pathways of the primate brain where decision making has been extensively studied, the flexibility of neurons is limited by inherent selectivity to motion direction and speed. The supplementary eye field (SEF), an area involved in decision making on moving stimuli, is not strictly a sensory or motor structure, and hence may not suffer such limitations. Here we test whether neurons in the SEF can flexibly interpret the rule of a go/nogo task when the decision boundary in the task changes with each trial. The task rule specified that the animal pursue a moving target with its eyes if and when the target entered a visible zone. The size of the zone was changed from trial to trial in order to shift the decision boundary, and thereby assign different go/nogo significance to the same motion trajectories. Individual SEF neurons interpreted the rule appropriately, signaling go or nogo in compliance with the rule and not the direction of motion. The results provide the first evidence that individual neurons in frontal cortex can flexibly interpret a rule that governs the decision to act.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2992-3000
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of neurophysiology
Issue number6
StatePublished - Dec 2011


  • Decision making
  • Eye movement
  • Motion
  • Rule learning
  • Smooth pursuit


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