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Exp Brain Res. 2009 Jul;197(1):49-58. doi: 10.1007/s00221-009-1887-1. Epub 2009 Jun 13.

Switching between gap and overlap pro-saccades: cost or benefit?

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IRIS Laboratory, CNRS, FRE 3154, Service d'ophtalmologie, Assistance publique, Hôpitaux de Paris, Hôpital Européen Georges Pompidou (Univ. Paris V), 20, rue Leblanc, 75015 Paris, France.


Triggering of saccades depends on the task: in the gap task, fixation point switches off and target appears after a gap period; in the overlap task, target appears while fixation point is still on. Saccade latencies are shorter in the gap task, due to fixation disengagement and advanced movement preparation during the gap. The two modes of initiation are also hypothesized to be subtended by different cortical-subcortical circuits. This study tested whether interleaving the two tasks modifies latencies, due to switching between different modes of triggering. Two groups of healthy participants (21-29 vs. 39-55 years) made horizontal and vertical saccades in gap, overlap, and mixed tasks; saccades were recorded with the Eyelink. Both groups showed shorter latencies in the gap task, i.e. a robust gap effect and systematic differences between directions. For young adults, interleaving tasks made the latencies shorter or longer depending on direction, while for middle-age adults, latencies became longer for all directions. Our observations can be explained in the context of models such as that of Brown et al. (Neural Netw 17:471-510, 2004), which proposed that different combinations of frontal eye field (FEF) layers, interacting with cortico-subcortical areas, control saccade triggering in gap and overlap trials. Moreover, we suggest that in early adulthood, the FEF is functioning optimally; frequent changes of activity in the FEF can be beneficial, leading to shorter latencies, at least for some directions. However, for middle-age adults, frequent changes of activity of a less optimally functioning FEF can be time consuming. Studying the alternation of gap and overlap tasks provides a fine tool to explore development, aging and disease.

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