Target profitability is represented in the monkey superior colliculus during visuosaccadic foraging
Kan, Janis Ying Ying
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Behavioural choices of animals as they acquire resources in the wild are well characterized by foraging theory; however, the neural mechanisms underlying these behaviours are not well understood. The goal of this thesis is to understand the brain mechanisms involved in selecting and executing such foraging behaviours. To do so, rhesus monkeys performed a novel visuosaccadic foraging task while we recorded the activity of single neurons in the intermediate layers of the superior colliculus (SCi). An important innovation of this task is that both target profitability – the measure of value in the simplest case of foraging theory – and saccade choice are measured separately. We hypothesized that target profitability is represented in the SCi in addition to its well characterized role in saccade planning and preparation. Visual Foraging Task: Monkeys harvested coloured dots representing prey items by fixating them for a pre-specified handling time. On each trial, multiple prey are presented, sharing identical physical attributes except that each was one of three colours. All prey of the same colour shared the same profitability [Profitability = reward magnitude (ml)/handling time (s)]. According to foraging theory, intake of reward is maximized if prey are selected in descending order of their profitability. Indeed, we found subjects gradually approached optimal efficiency. We computed an index of the relative subjective profitability of each prey colour, which compared the rank order with which monkeys chose prey of each colour. This subjective index of profitability was then compared to concomitant SC activity attributed to the prey item in the neuron’s response field (RF). First, we found that the amount of SC activity reflected the subjective profitability of the RF targets, and established that this effect was not simply a result of saccade goal planning. Second, profitability information remains dominant throughout the handling period until reward delivery, after which activity also became selective for upcoming saccades. Together, our results highlight the prominent role of target profitability in shaping SCi activity. We propose that profitability information in the SCi may play an important role in resolving competition between numerous target representations to choose the next saccade goal.