Gandhi and collaboratores show that if you step out to cross the street without looking right or left the neural activity in the brain is different than if you look from side to side first to be sure no cars are coming. Population level analysis of movement-related transient activity patterns in a population of superior colliculus neurons change in the two different contexts, and this difference is not readily identifiable in single-unit recordings. Here is their technical abstract:
Sensorimotor transformation is the process of first sensing an object in the environment and then producing a movement in response to that stimulus. For visually guided saccades, neurons in the superior colliculus (SC) emit a burst of spikes to register the appearance of stimulus, and many of the same neurons discharge another burst to initiate the eye movement. We investigated whether the neural signatures of sensation and action in SC depend on context. Spiking activity along the dorsoventral axis was recorded with a laminar probe as Rhesus monkeys generated saccades to the same stimulus location in tasks that require either executive control to delay saccade onset until permission is granted or the production of an immediate response to a target whose onset is predictable. Using dimensionality reduction and discriminability methods, we show that the subspaces occupied during the visual and motor epochs were both distinct within each task and differentiable across tasks. Single-unit analyses, in contrast, show that the movement-related activity of SC neurons was not different between tasks. These results demonstrate that statistical features in neural activity of simultaneously recorded ensembles provide more insight than single neurons. They also indicate that cognitive processes associated with task requirements are multiplexed in SC population activity during both sensation and action and that downstream structures could use this activity to extract context. Additionally, the entire manifolds associated with sensory and motor responses, respectively, may be larger than the subspaces explored within a certain set of experiments.