Neurons in the frontal pole cortex area of the brain are important for encoding actions that produce successful outcomes, finds a paper online in Nature Neuroscience this week. The work reports the first direct neuronal recordings in this region, and suggests that the area, which was thought to be very complex, actually has very simple response patterns.
Satoshi Tsujimoto and colleagues recorded the responses of frontal pole neurons while monkeys performed a decision making task. They found that the neurons encoded the monkey’s earlier decision, but only at the time when the monkey was receiving feedback as to whether it had made the correct response.
The simple response properties of the neurons are surprising because neurons in other frontal areas typically show more complex patterns of activity. However, these responses have important implications. We need to learn to repeat the actions that have successful outcomes, but figuring out which specific action is successful can be difficult to tease out, especially if there is a lot of other intervening behaviour between when the action occurs and when the consequences of our actions are evident. This work shows that the frontal pole is responsible for providing information about earlier decisions, ensuring that the correct decision receives credit for the successful outcome.