Large-scale sensory integration and cortical dynamics during goal-directed behavior in mice
Sensory perception requires the integration of sensory signals across distributed cortical areas. A first level of cortical integration occurs immediately following sensory input as neuronal activity from thalamic relay nuclei reaches sensory areas through innate feed-forward signaling pathways. Then, sensory information may flow forward and backward between sensory and higher-order areas producing sensory percept or relevant behavioral output.
We have studied how sensory information is integrated across sensory and higher-order cortical areas depending on the behavioral relevance of the sensory stimulus. Using two variant of a whisker-based sensory detection task, we found that higher-order areas, in particular the medial prefrontal cortex and dorsal hippocampus, are recruited at early time of sensory processing (within 50 ms) when the sensory stimulus becomes relevant for the mouse. We also examined spontaneous cortical activities across areas as mice learned and performed the sensory detection task. We found that the interareal coherence between higher-order areas and sensory areas in the low-frequency (1-10 Hz) range is increased as mice are more engaged in the task, potentially reflecting attentional level.
Together, we propose that a higher level of integration between sensory and higher-order cortical areas is required for sensory processing of relevant sensory inputs during goal-directed behaviors.