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J Neurophysiol. 2013 Jun;109(11):2767-80. doi: 10.1152/jn.00611.2012. Epub 2013 Mar 13.

Threshold mechanism for saccade initiation in frontal eye field and superior colliculus.

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Centre for Neuroscience Studies, Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario, Canada.


In an influential model of frontal eye field (FEF) and superior colliculus (SC) activity, saccade initiation occurs when the discharge rate of either single neurons or a population of neurons encoding a saccade motor plan reaches a threshold level of activity. Conflicting evidence exists for whether this threshold is fixed or can change under different conditions. We tested the fixed-threshold hypothesis at the single-neuron and population levels to help resolve the inconsistency between previous studies. Two rhesus monkeys performed a randomly interleaved pro- and antisaccade task in which they had to look either toward (pro) or 180° away (anti) from a peripheral visual stimulus. We isolated visuomotor (VM) and motor (M) neurons in the FEF and SC and tested three specific predictions of a fixed-threshold hypothesis. We found little support for fixed thresholds. First, correlations were never totally absent between presaccadic discharge rate and saccadic reaction time when examining a larger (plausible) temporal period. Second, presaccadic discharge rates varied markedly between saccade tasks. Third, visual responses exceeded presaccadic motor discharges for FEF and SC VM neurons. We calculated that only a remarkably strong bias for M neurons in downstream projections could render the fixed-threshold hypothesis plausible at the population level. Also, comparisons of gap vs. overlap conditions indicate that increased inhibitory tone may be associated with stability of thresholds. We propose that fixed thresholds are the exception rather than the rule in FEF and SC, and that stabilization of an otherwise variable threshold depends on task-related, inhibitory modulation.


antisaccade; inhibition; motoneuron; prosaccade; visuomotor neuron

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