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J Neurophysiol. 2006 Apr;95(4):2252-64. Epub 2006 Jan 4.

Transient pauses in delay-period activity of superior colliculus neurons.

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Department of Physiology, University of Wisconsin, Madison Medical School, Madison, WI 53706, USA.


A feature of neurons in the mammalian superior colliclus (SC) is the robust discharge of action potentials preceding the onset of rapid eye movements called saccades. The burst, which commands ocular motoneurons, is often preceded by persistent, low-level activity, likely reflecting neuronal processes such as target selection, saccade selection and preparation. Here, we report on a transient pause in persistent activity of SC neurons. We trained monkeys to make or withhold saccades based on the shape of a centrally located cue. We found that after the cue changed shape, there was a measurable pause in persistent activity of SC neurons, even though the cue was located well outside the response field of the neurons. We show here that this pause is not a simple, transient inhibitory drive from neurons representing the central visual field. Rather, the occurrence of the pause depends on the occurrence of saccades made much later in the trial. The characteristics of the pause such as magnitude or duration are not predictable from the task condition, rather the occurrence of the pause across the SC neuronal population varies with whether a saccade is made much later in the trial. We developed a model that accounts for our results and makes testable predictions about the effects of signals related to inhibition in SC neuronal populations.

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