Uncovering functionally distinct anatomical circuits within the PFC

Cognitive control involves the ability to suppress undesirable actions, remain attentive to relevant stimuli, and initiate goal-directed actions when appropriate. The medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) is highly involved in these processes. Distinct neuronal activation patterns across mPFC subregions, cell types, and behavioral subdomains often underlie attention and inhibitory control. However, there is substantial heterogeneity in timing, location, and origin of brain activity associated with behavior.

In their recent publication in Nature Communications which was supervised by Brainscapes co-leader Huib Mansvelder, De Kloet et al. show that mPFC output pathways targeting anatomically and functionally distinct striatal and thalamic subregions encode bi-directional command of cognitive control. Dorsal mPFC neurons projecting to lateral portions of the mediodorsal thalamus encode ‘GO’ signals to initiate goal-directed behavior, whereas ventral mPFC neurons projecting to medial portions of the mediodorsal thalamus encode ‘STOP’ signals to prohibit responses. Dorsal mPFC neurons projecting to dorsal striatum also encode ‘STOP’ signals, but with distinct temporal profile than projections to the thalamus. All in all, these results uncover functionally distinct anatomical circuits within the mPFC in which specific projection neurons to thalamus and stiatum encode bi-directional command of goal-directed behavior.