Effects of voluntary blinks on saccades, vergence eye movements, and saccade-vergence interactions in humans

J Neurophysiol. 2002 Sep;88(3):1220-33. doi: 10.1152/jn.2002.88.3.1220.


Blinks are known to change the kinematic properties of horizontal saccades, probably by influencing the saccadic premotor circuit. The neuronal basis of this effect could be explained by changes in the activity of omnipause neurons in the nucleus raphe interpositus or in the saccade-related burst neurons of the superior colliculus. Omnipause neurons cease discharge during both saccades and vergence movements. Because eyelid blinks can influence both sets of neurons, we hypothesized that blinks would influence the kinematic parameters of saccades in all directions, vergence, and saccade-vergence interactions. To test this hypothesis, we investigated binocular eye and lid movements in five normal healthy subjects with the magnetic search coil technique. The subjects performed conjugate horizontal and vertical saccades from gaze straight ahead to targets at 20 degrees up, down, right, or left while either attempting not to blink or voluntarily blinking. While following the same blink instruction, subjects made horizontal vergence eye movements of 7 degrees and combined saccade-vergence movements with a version amplitude of 20 degrees. The movements were performed back and forth from two targets simultaneously presented nearby (38 cm) and more distant (145 cm). Small vertical saccades accompanied most vergence movements. These results show that blinks change the kinematics (saccade duration, peak velocity, peak acceleration, peak deceleration) of not only horizontal but also of vertical saccades, of horizontal vergence eye movements, and of combined saccade-vergence eye movements. Peak velocity, acceleration, and deceleration of eye movements were decreased on the average by 30%, and their duration increased by 43% on the average when they were accompanied by blinks. The blink effect was time dependent with respect to saccade and vergence onset: the greatest effect occurred 100 ms prior to saccade onset, whereas there was no effect when the blink started after saccade onset. The effects of blinks on saccades and vergence, which are tightly coupled to latency, support the hypothesis that blinks cause profound spatiotemporal perturbations of the eye movements by interfering with the normal saccade/vergence premotor circuits. However, the measured effect may to a certain degree but not exclusively be explained by mechanical interference.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Blinking / physiology*
  • Convergence, Ocular / physiology*
  • Eye Movements / physiology*
  • Female
  • Fixation, Ocular / physiology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Saccades / physiology*
  • Time Factors
  • Volition