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Exp Brain Res. 2008 Oct;190(4):369-87. doi: 10.1007/s00221-008-1504-8. Epub 2008 Aug 13.

Coordination of the eyes and head during visual orienting.

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University of Rochester Medical Center, Rochester, NY 14642, USA.


Changing the direction of the line of sight is essential for the visual exploration of our environment. When the head does not move, re-orientation of the visual axis is accomplished with high velocity, conjugate movements of the eyes known as saccades. Our understanding of the neural mechanisms that control saccadic eye movements has advanced rapidly as specific hypotheses have been developed, evaluated and sometimes rejected on the basis of new observations. Constraints on new hypotheses and new tests of existing models have often arisen from the careful assessment of behavioral observations. The definition of the set of features (or rules) of saccadic eye movements was critical in the development of hypotheses of their neural control. When the head is free to move, changes in the direction of the line of sight can involve simultaneous saccadic eye movements and movements of the head. When the head moves in conjunction with the eyes to accomplish these shifts in gaze direction, the rules that helped define head-restrained saccadic eye movements are altered. For example, the slope relationship between duration and amplitude for saccadic eye movements is reversed (the slope is negative) during gaze shifts of similar amplitude initiated with the eyes in different orbital positions. Modifications to the hypotheses developed in head-restrained subjects may be needed to account for these new observations. This review briefly recounts features of head-restrained saccadic eye movements, and then describes some of the characteristics of coordinated eye-head movements that have led to development of new hypotheses describing the mechanisms of gaze shift control.

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