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J Neurosci. 2017 Feb 22;37(8):2234-2257. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.1984-16.2016. Epub 2017 Jan 24.

Electrical Microstimulation of the Pulvinar Biases Saccade Choices and Reaction Times in a Time-Dependent Manner.

Author information

Decision and Awareness Group, Cognitive Neuroscience Laboratory, German Primate Center, Leibniz Institute for Primate Research, Goettingen 37077, Germany.
Department of Cognitive Neurology, University of Goettingen, Goettingen 37075, Germany.
Leibnitz Science Campus Primate Cognition, Goettingen 37077, Germany.
Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft Center for Nanoscale Microscopy and Molecular Physiology of the Brain, Göttingen 37075, Germany, and.
Decision and Awareness Group, Cognitive Neuroscience Laboratory, German Primate Center, Leibniz Institute for Primate Research, Goettingen 37077, Germany,


The pulvinar complex is interconnected extensively with brain regions involved in spatial processing and eye movement control. Recent inactivation studies have shown that the dorsal pulvinar (dPul) plays a role in saccade target selection; however, it remains unknown whether it exerts effects on visual processing or at planning/execution stages. We used electrical microstimulation of the dPul while monkeys performed saccade tasks toward instructed and freely chosen targets. Timing of stimulation was varied, starting before, at, or after onset of target(s). Stimulation affected saccade properties and target selection in a time-dependent manner. Stimulation starting before but overlapping with target onset shortened saccadic reaction times (RTs) for ipsiversive (to the stimulation site) target locations, whereas stimulation starting at and after target onset caused systematic delays for both ipsiversive and contraversive locations. Similarly, stimulation starting before the onset of bilateral targets increased ipsiversive target choices, whereas stimulation after target onset increased contraversive choices. Properties of dPul neurons and stimulation effects were consistent with an overall contraversive drive, with varying outcomes contingent upon behavioral demands. RT and choice effects were largely congruent in the visually-guided task, but stimulation during memory-guided saccades, while influencing RTs and errors, did not affect choice behavior. Together, these results show that the dPul plays a primary role in action planning as opposed to visual processing, that it exerts its strongest influence on spatial choices when decision and action are temporally close, and that this choice effect can be dissociated from motor effects on saccade initiation and execution.SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT Despite a recent surge of interest, the core function of the pulvinar, the largest thalamic complex in primates, remains elusive. This understanding is crucial given the central role of the pulvinar in current theories of integrative brain functions supporting cognition and goal-directed behaviors, but electrophysiological and causal interference studies of dorsal pulvinar (dPul) are rare. Building on our previous studies that pharmacologically suppressed dPul activity for several hours, here we used transient electrical microstimulation at different periods while monkeys performed instructed and choice eye movement tasks, to determine time-specific contributions of pulvinar to saccade generation and decision making. We show that stimulation effects depend on timing and behavioral state and that effects on choices can be dissociated from motor effects.


choice; decision-making; electrophysiology; microstimulation; pulvinar; saccades

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