1. The activity of both accessory abducens (Acc Abd) and abducens (Abd) motoneurons (Mns) was recorded in the alert cat during eye retraction and rotational eye movements. Cats were fitted with two scleral coils, one measured rotational eye movements directly and the other retraction by distinguishing the translational component. 2. Acc Abd and Abd Mns were identified following antidromic activation from electrical stimulation of the ipsilateral VIth nerve. 3. In response to corneal air puffs, bursts of spikes were produced in all (n = 30) Acc Abd Mns. The burst began 7.2 +/- 1.2 (SD) ms after onset of the air puff and 8.9 +/- 1.9 ms before eye retraction. 4. Acc Abd Mns were silent throughout all types of rotational eye movements, and tonic activity was not observed during intervals without air-puff stimulation. 5. In contrast, all (n = 50) identified Abd Mns exhibited a burst and/or pause in activity preceding and during horizontal saccades as well as a tonic activity proportional to eye position. 6. Only 10% of Abd Mns fired a weak burst of spikes in response to air-puff stimulation. 7. We conclude that Acc Abd Mns are exclusively involved in eye retraction in the cat and that only a few Abd Mns have an eye-retraction signal added to their eye position and velocity signals. Thus any rotational eye-movement response described in retractor bulbi muscle must result from innervation by Mns located in the Abd and/or the oculomotor nuclei. 8. The organization of the prenuclear circuitry and species variation are discussed in view of the nictiating membrane extension response measured in associative learning.