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J Neurosci. 2016 Jun 1;36(22):6129-40. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.3685-15.2016.

Disruption of Fixation Reveals Latent Sensorimotor Processes in the Superior Colliculus.

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Department of Bioengineering, Center for the Neural Basis of Cognition, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 15213
Department of Bioengineering, Department of Otolaryngology, Department of Neuroscience, and Center for the Neural Basis of Cognition, University of Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 15213.


Executive control of voluntary movements is a hallmark of the mammalian brain. In the gaze-control network, this function is thought to be mediated by a critical balance between neurons responsible for generating movements and those responsible for fixating or suppressing movements, but the nature of this balance between the relevant elements-saccade-generating and fixation-related neurons-remains unclear. Specifically, it has been debated whether the two functions are necessarily coupled (i.e., push-and-pull) or independently controlled. Here we show that behavioral perturbation of ongoing fixation with the trigeminal blink reflex in monkeys (Macaca mulatta) alters the effective balance between fixation and saccade-generating neurons in the superior colliculus (SC) and can lead to premature gaze shifts reminiscent of compromised inhibitory control. The shift in balance is primarily driven by an increase in the activity of visuomovement neurons in the caudal SC, and the extent to which fixation-related neurons in the rostral SC play a role seems to be linked to the animal's propensity to make microsaccades. The perturbation also reveals a hitherto unknown feature of sensorimotor integration: the presence of a hidden visual response in canonical movement neurons. These findings offer new insights into the latent functional interactions, or lack thereof, between components of the gaze-control network, suggesting that the perturbation technique used here may prove to be a useful tool for probing the neural mechanisms of movement generation in executive function and dysfunction.


Eye movements are an integral part of how we explore the environment. Although we know a great deal about where sensorimotor transformations leading to saccadic eye movements are implemented in the brain, less is known about the functional interactions between neurons that maintain gaze fixation and neurons that program saccades. In this study, we used a novel approach to study these interactions. By transient disruption of fixation, we found that activity of saccade-generating neurons can increase independently of modulation in fixation-related neurons, which may occasionally lead to premature movements mimicking lack of impulse control. Our findings support the notion of a common pathway for sensory and movement processing and suggest that impulsive movements arise when sensory processes become "motorized."


fixation; impulsivity; microsaccades; sensorimotor integration; superior colliculus; visuomovement neurons

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