What triggers catch-up saccades during visual tracking?

J Neurophysiol. 2002 Mar;87(3):1646-50. doi: 10.1152/jn.00432.2001.


When tracking moving visual stimuli, primates orient their visual axis by combining two kinds of eye movements, smooth pursuit and saccades, that have very different dynamics. Yet, the mechanisms that govern the decision to switch from one type of eye movement to the other are still poorly understood, even though they could bring a significant contribution to the understanding of how the CNS combines different kinds of control strategies to achieve a common motor and sensory goal. In this study, we investigated the oculomotor responses to a large range of different combinations of position error and velocity error during visual tracking of moving stimuli in humans. We found that the oculomotor system uses a prediction of the time at which the eye trajectory will cross the target, defined as the "eye crossing time" (T(XE)). The eye crossing time, which depends on both position error and velocity error, is the criterion used to switch between smooth and saccadic pursuit, i.e., to trigger catch-up saccades. On average, for T(XE) between 40 and 180 ms, no saccade is triggered and target tracking remains purely smooth. Conversely, when T(XE) becomes smaller than 40 ms or larger than 180 ms, a saccade is triggered after a short latency (around 125 ms).

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Motion Perception / physiology*
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Pursuit, Smooth / physiology*
  • Reaction Time / physiology
  • Saccades / physiology*