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Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience

March 2012, Vol. 24, No. 3, Pages 627-635.
(doi: 10.1162/jocn_a_00171)
© 2012 Massachusetts Institute of Technology
The Prefrontal Cortex and Oculomotor Delayed Response: A Reconsideration of the “Mnemonic Scotoma”
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Abstract

The concept of the “mnemonic scotoma,” a spatially circumscribed region of working memory impairment produced by unilateral lesions of the PFC, is central to the view that PFC is critical for the short-term retention of information. Presented here, however, are previously unpublished data that offer an alternative, nonmnemonic interpretation of this pattern of deficit. In their study, Wajima and Sawaguchi [Wajima, K., & Sawaguchi, T. The role of GABAergic inhibiton in suppressing perseverative responses in the monkey prefrontal cortex. Neuroscience Research, 50(Suppl. 1), P3–P317, 2004] applied the GABAA antagonist bicuculline methiodide unilaterally to the PFC of two monkeys while they performed an oculomotor delayed-response task. Consistent with previous studies, errors for the initial memory-guided saccade were markedly higher when the cued location fell into the region of the visual field affected by the infusion. These erroneous saccades tended to select an alternative target location (out of a possible 16) that had not been cued on that trial. By extending the analysis window, however, it was observed that the second, “corrective” saccade often acquired the location that had been cued on that trial. Further analysis of the erroneous initial saccades indicated that they tended to be directed to a location that had been relevant on the previous trial. Thus, the deficit was not one of “forgetting” the cued location. Rather, it was one of selecting between currently and previously relevant locations. These findings suggest a need for a reconsideration of the concept of the mnemonic scotoma, which in turn invites a reconsideration of functional interpretations of sustained neuronal activity in PFC.