Decoding the timing and target locations of saccadic eye movements from neuronal activity in macaque oculomotor areas

J Neural Eng. 2015 Jun;12(3):036014. doi: 10.1088/1741-2560/12/3/036014. Epub 2015 May 14.


Objective: The control of movement timing has been a significant challenge for brain-machine interfaces (BMIs). As a first step toward developing a timing-based BMI, we aimed to decode movement timing and target locations in a visually guided saccadic eye movement task using the activity of neurons in the primate frontal eye field (FEF) and supplementary eye field (SEF).

Approach: For this purpose, we developed a template-matching method that could recruit a variety of neurons in these areas.

Main results: As a result, we were able to achieve a favorable estimation of saccade onset: for example, data from 20 randomly sampled FEF neurons or 40 SEF neurons achieved a median estimation error of ∼10 ms with an interquartile range less than 50 ms (± ∼25 ms). In the best case, seven simultaneously recorded SEF neurons using a multi-electrode array achieved a comparable accuracy (10 ± 30 ms). The method was significantly better than a heuristic method that used only a group of movement cells with sharp discharges at the onset of saccades. The estimation of target location was less accurate but still favorable, especially when we estimated target location at a timing of 200 ms after the onset of saccade: the method was able to discriminate 16 targets with an accuracy of 90%, which differed not only in their directions (eight directions) but also in amplitude (10/20°) when we used data from 61 randomly sampled FEF neurons.

Significance: The results show that the timing, amplitude and direction of saccades can be decoded from neuronal activity in the FEF and SEF and further suggest that timing-based BMIs can be developed by decoding timing information using the template-matching method.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Algorithms
  • Animals
  • Evoked Potentials / physiology
  • Evoked Potentials, Visual / physiology*
  • Macaca
  • Motor Cortex / physiology*
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Saccades / physiology*
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Time Factors
  • Visual Cortex / physiology*
  • Visual Perception / physiology*