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Human dorsal anterior cingulate neurons signal conflict by amplifying task-relevant information

By R Becket Ebitz, Elliot H. Smith, Guillermo Horga, Catherine A. Schevon, Mark J. Yates, Guy M McKhann, Matthew M. Botvinick, Sameer A. Sheth, Benjamin Y. Hayden

Posted 15 Mar 2020
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/2020.03.14.991745

Hemodynamic activity in dorsal anterior cingulate cortex (dACC) correlates with conflict, suggesting it contributes to conflict processing. This correlation could be explained by multiple neural processes that can be disambiguated by population firing rates patterns. We used targeted dimensionality reduction to characterize activity of populations of single dACC neurons as humans performed a task that manipulates two forms of conflict. Although conflict enhanced firing rates, this enhancement did not come from a discrete population of domain-general conflict-encoding neurons, nor from a distinct conflict-encoding response axis. Nor was it the epiphenomenal consequence of simultaneous coactivation of action plans. Instead, conflict amplified the task-relevant information encoded across the neuronal population. Effects of conflict were weaker and more heterogeneous in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (dlPFC), suggesting that dACCs role in conflict processing may be somewhat specialized. Overall, these results support the theory that conflict biases competition between sensorimotor transformation processes occurring in dACC.

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