Excitatory neurons of the anterior cingulate cortex encode chosen actions and their outcomes rather than cognitive state

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The anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) causally influences cognitive control of goal-directed behaviour. However, it is unclear whether ACC directly encodes cognitive variables like attention or impulsivity, or implements goal-directed action selection mechanisms that are modulated by them. We recorded ACC activity with miniature endoscopic microscopes in mice performing the 5-choice-serial-reaction time task, and applied decoding and encoding analyses. ACC pyramidal cells represented specific actions before and during the behavioural response, whereas the response type (e.g. correct/incorrect/premature) – indicating the state of attentional and impulse control – could only be decoded during and after the response with high reliability. Devaluation and extinction experiments further revealed that action encoding depended on reward expectation. Our findings support a role for ACC in goal-directed action selection and monitoring, that is modulated by cognitive state, rather than in tracking levels of attention or impulsivity directly in individual trials.

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