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J Neurophysiol. 2013 Aug;110(4):883-90. doi: 10.1152/jn.00229.2013. Epub 2013 May 22.

Saccade suppression exerts global effects on the motor system.

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Psychology Department, University of California San Diego, La Jolla, California 92103, USA.


Stopping inappropriate eye movements is a cognitive control function that allows humans to perform well in situations that demand attentional focus. The stop-signal task is an experimental model for this behavior. Participants initiate a saccade toward a target and occasionally have to try to stop the impending saccade if a stop signal occurs. Prior research using a version of this paradigm for limb movements (hand, leg) as well as for speech has shown that rapidly stopping action leads to apparently global suppression of the motor system, as indexed by the corticospinal excitability (CSE) of task-unrelated effectors in studies with transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) of M1. Here we measured CSE from the hand with high temporal precision while participants made saccades and while they successfully and unsuccessfully stopped these saccades in response to a stop signal. We showed that 50 ms before the estimated time at which a saccade is successfully stopped there was reduced CSE for the hand, which was task irrelevant. This shows that rapidly stopping eye movements also has global motor effects. We speculate that this arises because rapidly stopping eye movements, like skeleto-motor movements, is possibly achieved via input to the subthalamic nucleus of the basal ganglia, with a putatively broad suppressive effect on thalamocortical drive. Since recent studies suggest that this suppressive effect could also impact nonmotor representations, the present finding points to a possible mechanistic basis for some kinds of distractibility: abrupt-onset stimuli will interrupt ongoing processing by generating global motor and nonmotor effects.


eye movements; inhibitory control; motor evoked potential; saccade countermanding; stop-signal task

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