A foveal target increases catch-up saccade frequency during smooth pursuit

J Neurophysiol. 2016 Mar;115(3):1220-7. doi: 10.1152/jn.00774.2015. Epub 2015 Dec 2.


Images that move rapidly across the retina of the human eye blur because the retina has sluggish temporal dynamics. Voluntary smooth pursuit eye movements are modeled as matching object velocity to minimize retinal motion and prevent retinal blurring. However, "catch-up" saccades that are ubiquitous during pursuit interrupt it and disrupt clear vision. But catch-up saccades may not be a common feature of ocular pursuit, because their existence has been documented with a small moving spot, the classic pursuit stimulus, which is a weak motion stimulus that may poorly emulate larger pursuit objects. We found that spot pursuit does not generalize to that of larger objects. Observers pursued a spot or a larger virtual object with or without a superimposed spot target. Single-spot targets produced lower pursuit acceleration than larger objects. Critically, more saccadic intrusions occurred when stimuli had a central dot, even when position and velocity errors were equated, suggesting that catch-up saccades result from pursuing a single, small object or a feature on a large one. To determine what differentiates a large object from a small one, we progressively shrank the featureless virtual object and found that catch-up saccade frequency was highest when it fit in the fovea. The results suggest that pursuit of a small target or an object feature recruits a saccade mechanism that does not compensate for a weak motion signal; rather, the target compels foveation. Furthermore, catch-up saccades are likely generated by neural circuitry typically used to foveate small objects or features.

Keywords: catch-up saccades; fovea; saccade; smooth pursuit.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Female
  • Fovea Centralis / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Pursuit, Smooth*
  • Saccades*