The cerebellum exhibits both motor and reward-related signals. However, it remains unclear whether reward is processed independently from the motor command or might reflect the motor consequences of the reward drive. To test how reward-related signals interact with sensorimotor processing in the cerebellum, we recorded Purkinje cell simple spike activity in the cerebellar floccular complex while monkeys were engaged in smooth pursuit eye movement tasks. The color of the target signaled the size of the reward the monkeys would receive at the end of the target motion. When the tracking task presented a single target, both pursuit and neural activity were only slightly modulated by the reward size. The reward modulations in single cells were rarely large enough to be detected. These modulations were only significant in the population analysis when we averaged across many neurons. In two-target tasks where the monkey learned to select based on the size of the reward outcome, both behavior and neural activity adapted rapidly. In both the single and two target tasks, the size of the reward-related modulation matched the size of the effect of reward on behavior. Thus, unlike cortical activity in eye movement structures, the reward-related signals could not be dissociated from the motor command. These results suggest that reward information is integrated with the eye movement command upstream to the Purkinje cells in the floccular complex. Thus, reward-related modulations of the simple spikes are akin to modulations found in motor behavior and not to the central processing of the reward value.
Paper of the month
Joshua's Lab: Encoding of eye movements explains reward-related activity in cerebellar simple spikes
Adi Lixenberg, Merav Yarkoni, Yehudit Botschko and Mati Joshua
Journal of Neurophysiology 2020 123:2, 786-799 (2020)