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J Neurosci. 2008 Apr 23;28(17):4561-77. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.5683-07.2008.

Preparing to move increases the sensitivity of superior colliculus neurons.

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Department of Physiology, School of Medicine and Public Health, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, Wisconsin 53706, USA.


How the brain selects goals for movements remains unknown. The system designed to move the eyes rapidly, the saccadic system, may play a role. Here we ask how sensory signals within a saccade area are influenced by selecting and preparing a saccade. Trained monkeys made or withheld saccades, based on a color cue, to targets varying in luminance contrast. We measured the initial visual activity of superior colliculus (SC) neurons in response to the appearance of these targets. We determined neuronal contrast responses in three task conditions: when two luminance gratings appeared one in the response field (RF) and one in the mirror-opposite location and a cue to select the stimulus in the RF occurred; when the gratings appeared and a cue to select the stimulus out of the RF occurred; and third, when the gratings appeared but monkeys remained fixating on the central spot. SC neurons had increases in visual responses when contrast increased. Receiver operating characteristic analysis revealed an increased ability of neurons to detect the grating on trials with higher contrast targets and also on trials with a cue to make a saccade compared with trials with a cue to remain fixating. Using two measures of neuronal sensitivity, those SC neurons considered part of the motor circuitry increased their sensitivity to contrast with a cue to make a saccade. The results indicate that movement commands influence sensory responses in SC in much the same way that commands to shift attention influence sensory responses in extrastriate cortex.

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