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J Neurophysiol. 2015 Jul;114(1):638-49. doi: 10.1152/jn.00636.2014. Epub 2015 May 27.

Smooth pursuit preparation modulates neuronal responses in visual areas MT and MST.

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Departments of Neuroscience and Psychiatry, Columbia University, New York, New York


Primates are able to track small moving visual targets using smooth pursuit eye movements. Target motion for smooth pursuit is signaled by neurons in visual cortical areas MT and MST. In this study, we trained monkeys to either initiate or withhold smooth pursuit in the presence of a moving target to test whether this decision was reflected in the relative strength of "go" and "no-go" processes. We found that the gain of the motor response depended strongly on whether monkeys were instructed to initiate or withhold pursuit, thus demonstrating voluntary control of pursuit initiation. We found that the amplitude of the neuronal response to moving targets in areas MT and MST was also significantly lower on no-go trials (by 2.1 spikes/s on average). The magnitude of the neural response reduction was small compared with the behavioral gain reduction. There were no significant differences in neuronal direction selectivity, spatial selectivity, or response reliability related to pursuit initiation or the absence thereof. Variability in eye speed was negatively correlated with firing rate variability after target motion onset during go trials but not during no-go trials, suggesting that MT and MST activity represents an error signal for a negative feedback controller. We speculate that modulation of the visual motion signals in areas MT and MST may be one of the first visual cortical events in the initiation of smooth pursuit and that the small early response modulation may be amplified to produce an all-or-none motor response by downstream areas.


decision-making; motion; movement; smooth pursuit; voluntary movement

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