Covert spatial selection in primate basal ganglia

by Fabrice Arcizet, Richard J. Krauzlis

The basal ganglia are important for action selection. They are also implicated in perceptual and cognitive functions that seem far removed from motor control. Here, we tested whether the role of the basal ganglia in selection extends to nonmotor aspects of behavior by recording neuronal activity in the caudate nucleus while animals performed a covert spatial attention task. We found that caudate neurons strongly select the spatial location of the relevant stimulus throughout the task even in the absence of any overt action. This spatially selective activity was dependent on task and visual conditions and could be dissociated from goal-directed actions. Caudate activity was also sufficient to correctly identify every epoch in the covert attention task. These results provide a novel perspective on mechanisms of attention by demonstrating that the basal ganglia are involved in spatial selection and tracking of behavioral states even in the absence of overt orienting movements.

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