(Figure Presented) The amygdala contributes to multiple functions including attention allocation, sensory processing, decision-making, and the elaboration of emotional behaviors. The diversity of functions attributed to the amygdala is reflected in the response selectivity of its component neurons. Previous work claimed that subsets of neurons differentiate between broad categories of stimuli (e.g., objects vs faces, rewards vs punishment), while other subsets are narrowly specialized to respond to individual faces or facial features (e.g., eyes). Here we explored the extent to which the same neurons contribute to more than one neural subpopulation in a task that activated multiple functions of the amygdala. The subjects (Macaca mulatta) watched videos depicting conspecifics or inanimate objects, and learned by trial and error to choose the individuals or objects associated with the highest rewards. We found that the same neurons responded selectively to two or more of the following task events or stimulus features: (1) alerting, task-related stimuli (fixation icon, video start, and video end); (2) reward magnitude; (3) stimulus categories (social vs nonsocial); and (4) stimulus-unique features (faces, eyes). A disproportionate number of neurons showed selectivity for all of the examined stimulus features and task events. These results suggest that neurons that appear specialized and uniquely tuned to specific stimuli (e.g., face cells, eye cells) are likely to respond to multiple other types of stimuli or behavioral events, if/when these become behaviorally relevant in the context of a complex task. This multidimensional selectivity supports a flexible, context-dependent evaluation of inputs and subsequent decision making based on the activity of the same neural ensemble.
- Mixed selectivity
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