Background: The superior colliculus (SC) has been shown to play a crucial role in the initiation and coordination of eye- and head-movements. The knowledge about the function of this structure is mainly based on single-unit recordings in animals with relatively few neuroimaging studies investigating eye-movement related brain activity in humans.
Methodology/principal findings: The present study employed high-field (7 Tesla) functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to investigate SC responses during endogenously cued saccades in humans. In response to centrally presented instructional cues, subjects either performed saccades away from (centrifugal) or towards (centripetal) the center of straight gaze or maintained fixation at the center position. Compared to central fixation, the execution of saccades elicited hemodynamic activity within a network of cortical and subcortical areas that included the SC, lateral geniculate nucleus (LGN), occipital cortex, striatum, and the pulvinar.
Conclusions/significance: Activity in the SC was enhanced contralateral to the direction of the saccade (i.e., greater activity in the right as compared to left SC during leftward saccades and vice versa) during both centrifugal and centripetal saccades, thereby demonstrating that the contralateral predominance for saccade execution that has been shown to exist in animals is also present in the human SC. In addition, centrifugal saccades elicited greater activity in the SC than did centripetal saccades, while also being accompanied by an enhanced deactivation within the prefrontal default-mode network. This pattern of brain activity might reflect the reduced processing effort required to move the eyes toward as compared to away from the center of straight gaze, a position that might serve as a spatial baseline in which the retinotopic and craniotopic reference frames are aligned.