Action Representation in the Mouse Parieto-Frontal Network
Peer reviewed, Journal article
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Original versionScientific Reports. 2020, 10 (5559), . https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-020-62089-6
The posterior parietal cortex (PPC) and frontal motor areas comprise a cortical network supporting goal-directed behaviour, with functions including sensorimotor transformations and decision making. In primates, this network links performed and observed actions via mirror neurons, which fire both when individuals perform an action and when they observe the same action performed by a conspecific. Mirror neurons are believed to be important for social learning, but it is not known whether mirror-like neurons occur in similar networks in other social species, such as rodents, or if they can be measured in such models using paradigms where observers passively view a demonstrator. Therefore, we imaged Ca2+ responses in PPC and secondary motor cortex (M2) while mice performed and observed pellet-reaching and wheel-running tasks, and found that cell populations in both areas robustly encoded several naturalistic behaviours. However, neural responses to the same set of observed actions were absent, although we verified that observer mice were attentive to performers and that PPC neurons responded reliably to visual cues. Statistical modelling also indicated that executed actions outperformed observed actions in predicting neural responses. These results raise the possibility that sensorimotor action recognition in rodents could take place outside of the parieto-frontal circuit, and underscore that detecting socially-driven neural coding depends critically on the species and behavioural paradigm used.