The role of frontoparietal topographic maps in spatial cognition
Fri, February 21, 2014 • 3:00 PM - 4:00 PM • SEA Library, 4.244
Clayton E. Curtis, Ph.D.
Psychology and Neural Science
New York University
The prefrontal and posterior parietal cortices (PFC/PPC) sit at the apex of the sensorimotor hierarchy and are important for the selection and planning of voluntary action and are thought to bias the processing in sensory areas towards behaviorally relevant dimensions. Recently, several lines of evidence from a variety of disciplines have converged on a theory positing that activity in the frontal and parietal cortices constitutes maps of prioritized space. In this conceptual framework, priority maps tag important locations in the visual field and are constructed both from the salience (e.g., conspicuousness) of objects and its current relevance (e.g., task goal). Activity in a priority map could be used to select between competing representations of actions in the motor system or between competing representations of objects in the visual system. I will describe recent efforts in my lab to test whether patterns of neural activity in the human PFC and PPC are consistent with predictions from the priority map theory. Using novel topographic mapping techniques to identify candidate priority maps in PFC and PPC, we then perform a number of experiments to test hypotheses about the nature of what is being prioritized. We demonstrate that we can decode prioritized locations across working memory, attention, and motor intention tasks based on the multivoxel pattern of delay period activity. Moreover, the decoder generalizes across tasks suggesting that the pattern might be interchangeable across a variety of spatial cognitive tasks in some candidate priority maps. Therefore, we conclude that persistent activity in some areas is not specific to working memory, but instead, carries information that can be used generally to support a variety of cognitions. Sculpted activity in topographically organized maps of prioritized space in PFC and PPC could be read out to guide attention, spatial memory, and motor planning.