The Journal of Neuroscience
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The cognitive control of action requires both the suppression of automatic responses to sudden stimuli and the generation of behavior specified by abstract instructions. Though patient, functional imaging and neurophysiological studies have implicated the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (dlPFC) in these abilities, the mechanism by which the dlPFC exerts this control remains unknown. Here we examined the functional interaction of the dlPFC with the saccade circuitry by deactivating area 46 of the dlPFC and measuring its effects on the activity of single superior colliculus neurons in monkeys performing a cognitive saccade task. Deactivation of the dlPFC reduced preparatory activity and increased stimulus-related activity in these neurons. These changes in neural activity were accompanied by marked decreases in task performance as evidenced by longer reaction times and more task errors. The results suggest that the dlPFC participates in the cognitive control of gaze by suppressing stimulus-evoked automatic saccade programs.