Afferent signals from pigeon extraocular muscles modify the vestibular responses of units in the abducens nucleus

Proc Biol Sci. 1991 Jun 22;244(1311):233-9. doi: 10.1098/rspb.1991.0076.


Although the extraocular muscles contain stretch receptors it is generally believed that their afferents exert no influence on the control of eye movement. However, we have shown previously that these afferent signals reach various brainstem centres concerned with eye movement, notably the vestibular nuclei, and that the decerebrate pigeon is a favourable preparation in which to study their effects. If the extraocular muscle afferents do influence oculomotor control from moment-to-moment they should exert a demonstrable effect on the oculomotor nuclei. We now present evidence that extraocular muscle afferent signals do, indeed, alter the responses of units in an oculomotor nucleus (the abducens, VI nerve nucleus, which supplies the lateral rectus muscle) to horizontal, vestibular stimulation induced by sinusoidal oscillation of the bird. Such stimuli evoke a vestibulo-ocular reflex in the intact bird. The extraocular stretch receptors were activated by passive eye movement within the pigeon's saccadic range; such movements modified the vestibular responses of all 19 units studied which were all, histologically, in the abducens nucleus. The magnitude of the effects, purely inhibitory in 15 units, depended both on the amplitude and the velocity of the eye movement and most units showed selectivity for particular combinations of plane (e.g. horizontal versus vertical) and direction (e.g. rostral versus caudal) of eye movement. The results show that an afferent signal from the extraocular muscles influences vestibularly driven activity in the abducens nucleus to which it carries information related to amplitude, velocity, plane and direction of eye movement in the saccadic range. They thus strongly support the view that extraocular afferent signals are involved in the control of eye movement.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Abducens Nerve / physiology*
  • Afferent Pathways / physiology*
  • Animals
  • Columbidae
  • Decerebrate State
  • Electric Stimulation
  • Eye Movements*
  • Mechanoreceptors / physiology
  • Oculomotor Muscles / innervation*
  • Reflex, Vestibulo-Ocular / physiology