Neurophysiology and neuroanatomy of reflexive and volitional saccades as revealed by lesion studies with neurological patients and transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS)

Brain Cogn. 2008 Dec;68(3):284-92. doi: 10.1016/j.bandc.2008.08.018. Epub 2008 Oct 9.


This review discusses the neurophysiology and neuroanatomy of the cortical control of reflexive and volitional saccades in humans. The main focus is on classical lesion studies and studies using the interference method of transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS). To understand the behavioural function of a region, it is essential to assess oculomotor deficits after a focal lesion using a variety of oculomotor paradigms, and to study the oculomotor consequences of the lesion in the chronic phase. Saccades are controlled by different cortical regions, which could be partially specialised in the triggering of a specific type of saccade. The division of saccades into reflexive visually guided saccades and intentional or volitional saccades corresponds to distinct regions of the neuronal network, which are involved in the control of such saccades. TMS allows to specifically interfere with the functioning of a region within an intact oculomotor network. TMS provides advantages in terms of temporal resolution, allowing to interfere with brain functioning in the order of milliseconds, thereby allowing to define the time course of saccade planning and execution. In the first part of the paper, we present an overview of the cortical structures important for saccade control, and discuss the pro's and con's of the different methodological approaches to study the cortical oculomotor network. In the second part, the functional network involved in reflexive and volitional saccades is presented. Finally, studies concerning recovery mechanisms after a lesion of the oculomotor cortex are discussed.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Brain Injuries / pathology*
  • Brain Injuries / physiopathology*
  • Cerebral Cortex / pathology
  • Cerebral Cortex / physiopathology
  • Humans
  • Memory / physiology
  • Neuroanatomy
  • Neurophysiology
  • Oculomotor Nerve / pathology
  • Oculomotor Nerve / physiopathology
  • Saccades / physiology*
  • Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation / methods*
  • Visual Fields / physiology