Abstract

In everyday situations, quantitative rules, such as “greater than/less than,” need to be applied to a multitude of magnitude comparisons, be they sensory, spatial, temporal, or numerical. We have previously shown that rules applied to different magnitudes are encoded in the lateral PFC. To investigate if and how other frontal lobe areas also contribute to the encoding of quantitative rules applied to multiple magnitudes, we trained monkeys to switch between “greater than/less than” rules applied to either line lengths (spatial magnitudes) or dot numerosities (discrete numerical magnitudes). We recorded single-cell activity from the dorsal premotor cortex (dPMC) and cingulate motor cortex (CMA) and compared it with PFC activity. We found the largest proportion of quantitative rule-selective cells in PFC (24% of randomly selected cells), whereas neurons in dPMC and CMA rarely encoded the rule (6% of the cells). In addition, rule selectivity of individual cells was highest in PFC neurons compared with dPMC and CMA neurons. Rule-selective neurons that simultaneously represented the “greater than/less than” rules applied to line lengths and numerosities (“rule generalists”) were exclusively present in PFC. In dPMC and CMA, however, neurons primarily encoded rules applied to only one of the two magnitude types (“rule specialists”). Our data suggest a special involvement of PFC in representing quantitative rules at an abstract level, both in terms of the proportion of neurons engaged and the coding capacities.

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