Linking express saccade occurance to stimulus properties and sensorimotor integration in the superior colliculus

J Neurophysiol. 2015 Aug;114(2):879-92. doi: 10.1152/jn.00047.2015. Epub 2015 Jun 10.


Express saccades represent the fastest possible eye movements to visual targets with reaction times that approach minimum sensory-motor conduction delays. Previous work in monkeys has identified two specific neural signals in the superior colliculus (SC: a midbrain sensorimotor integration structure involved in gaze control) that are required to execute express saccades: 1) previsual activity consisting of a low-frequency increase in action potentials in sensory-motor neurons immediately before the arrival of a visual response; and 2) a transient visual-sensory response consisting of a high-frequency burst of action potentials in visually responsive neurons resulting from the appearance of a visual target stimulus. To better understand how these two neural signals interact to produce express saccades, we manipulated the arrival time and magnitude of visual responses in the SC by altering target luminance and we examined the corresponding influences on SC activity and express saccade generation. We recorded from saccade neurons with visual-, motor-, and previsual-related activity in the SC of monkeys performing the gap saccade task while target luminance was systematically varied between 0.001 and 42.5 cd/m(2) against a black background (∼0.0001 cd/m(2)). Our results demonstrated that 1) express saccade latencies were linked directly to the arrival time in the SC of visual responses produced by abruptly appearing visual stimuli; 2) express saccades were generated toward both dim and bright targets whenever sufficient previsual activity was present; and 3) target luminance altered the likelihood of producing an express saccade. When an express saccade was generated, visuomotor neurons increased their activity immediately before the arrival of the visual response in the SC and saccade initiation. Furthermore, the visual and motor responses of visuomotor neurons merged into a single burst of action potentials, while the visual response of visual-only neurons was unaffected. A linear combination model was used to test which SC signals best predicted the likelihood of producing an express saccade. In addition to visual response magnitude and previsual activity of saccade neurons, the model identified presaccadic activity (activity occurring during the 30-ms epoch immediately before saccade initiation) as a third important signal for predicting express saccades. We conclude that express saccades can be predicted by visual, previsual, and presaccadic signals recorded from visuomotor neurons in the intermediate layers of the SC.

Keywords: automatic saccades; buildup neuron; express saccade model; eye movement; reaction time; sensorimotor integration; stimulus intensity; visual response.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Action Potentials
  • Animals
  • Linear Models
  • Macaca mulatta
  • Male
  • Microelectrodes
  • Models, Neurological
  • Motor Activity / physiology*
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Photic Stimulation / methods
  • Saccades / physiology*
  • Superior Colliculi / physiology*
  • Time Factors
  • Visual Perception / physiology*