Neurons in several areas of the monkey frontal cortex exhibit rank selectivity, firing differentially as a function of the stage attained during the performance of a serial order task. The activity of these neurons is commonly thought to represent ordinal position within the trial. However, they might also be sensitive to factors correlated with ordinal position including time elapsed during the trial (which is greater for each successive stage) and the degree of anticipation of reward (which probably increases at each successive stage). To compare the influences of these factors, we monitored neuronal activity in the supplementary motor area (SMA), presupplementary motor area (pre-SMA), supplementary eye field (SEF), and dorsolateral prefrontal cortex during the performance of a serial order task (requiring a series of saccades in three specified directions), a variable reward task (in which a cue displayed early in the trial indicated whether the reward received at the end of the trial would be large or small), and a long delay task (in which the monkey had simply to maintain fixation during a period of time approximating the duration of an average trial in the serial order task). We found that rank signals were partially correlated with sensitivity to elapsed time and anticipated reward. The connection to elapsed time was strongest in the pre-SMA. The connection to anticipated reward was most pronounced in the SMA and SEF. However, critically, these factors could not fully explain rank selectivity in any of the areas tested
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