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J Neurophysiol. 2000 Apr;83(4):2080-92.

Activity of mesencephalic vertical burst neurons during saccades and smooth pursuit.

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Laboratory of Neurophysiology, School of Medicine, Université Catholique de Louvain, 1200 Brussels, Belgium.


The activity of vertical burst neurons (BNs) was recorded in the rostral interstitial nucleus of the medial longitudinal fasciculus (riMLF-BNs) and in the interstitial nucleus of Cajal (NIC-BNs) in head-restrained cats while performing saccades or smooth pursuit. BNs emitted a high-frequency burst of action potentials before and during vertical saccades. On average, these bursts led saccade onset by 14 +/- 4 ms (mean +/- SD, n = 23), and this value was in the range of latencies ( approximately 5-15 ms) of medium-lead burst neurons (MLBNs). All NIC-BNs (n = 15) had a downward preferred direction, whereas riMLF-BNs showed either a downward (n = 3) or an upward (n = 5) preferred direction. We found significant correlations between saccade and burst parameters in all BNs: vertical amplitude was correlated with the number of spikes, maximum vertical velocity with maximum of the spike density, and saccade duration with burst duration. A correlation was also found between instantaneous vertical velocity and neuronal activity during saccades. During fixation, all riMLF-BNs and approximately 50% of NIC-BNs (7/15) were silent. Among NIC-BNs active during fixation (8/15), only two cells had an activity correlated with the eye position in the orbit. During smooth pursuit, most riMLF-BNs were silent (7/8), but all NIC-BNs showed an activity that was significantly correlated with the eye velocity. This activity was unaltered during temporary disappearance of the visual target, demonstrating that it was not visual in origin. For a given neuron, its ON-direction during smooth pursuit and saccades remained identical. The activity of NIC-BNs during both saccades and smooth pursuit can be described by a nonlinear exponential function using the velocity of the eye as independent variable. We suggest that riMLF-BNs, which were not active during smooth pursuit, are vertical MLBNs responsible for the generation of vertical saccades. Because NIC-BNs discharged during both saccades and pursuit, they cannot be regarded as MLBNs as usually defined. NIC-BNs could, however, be the site of convergence of both the saccadic and smooth pursuit signals at the premotoneuronal level. Alternatively, NIC-BNs could participate in the integration of eye velocity to eye position signals and represent input neurons to a common integrator.

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