Competition between saccade goals in the superior colliculus produces saccade curvature

J Neurophysiol. 2003 May;89(5):2577-90. doi: 10.1152/jn.00657.2002. Epub 2003 Jan 22.


When saccadic eye movements are made in a search task that requires selecting a target from distractors, the movements show greater curvature in their trajectories than similar saccades made to single stimuli. To test the hypothesis that this increase in curvature arises from competitive interactions between saccade goals occurring near the time of movement onset, we performed single-unit recording and microstimulation experiments in the superior colliculus (SC). We found that saccades that ended near the target but curved toward a distractor were accompanied by increased presaccadic activity of SC neurons coding the distractor site. This increased activity occurred approximately 30 ms before saccade onset and was abruptly quenched on saccade initiation. The magnitude of increased activity at the distractor site was correlated with the amount of curvature toward the distractor. In contrast, neurons coding the target location did not show any significant difference in discharge for curved versus straight saccades. To determine whether this pattern of SC discharge is causally related to saccade curvature, we performed a second series of experiments using electrical microstimulation. Monkeys made saccades to single visual stimuli presented without distractors, and we stimulated sites in the SC that would have corresponded to distractor sites in the search task. The stimulation was subthreshold for evoking saccades, but when its temporal structure mimicked the activity recorded for curved saccades in search, the subsequent saccades to the visual target showed curvature toward the location coded by the stimulation site. The effect was larger for higher stimulation frequencies and when the stimulation site was in the same colliculus as the representation of the visual target. These results support the hypothesis that the increased saccade curvature observed in search arises from rivalry between target and distractor goals and are consistent with the idea that the SC is involved in the competitive neural interactions underlying saccade target selection.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Electric Stimulation
  • Female
  • Macaca mulatta
  • Microelectrodes
  • Neurons / physiology
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Saccades / physiology*
  • Superior Colliculi / physiology*
  • Visual Perception / physiology