Oculomotor plant and neural dynamics suggest gaze control requires integration on distributed timescales

J Physiol. 2022 Aug;600(16):3837-3863. doi: 10.1113/JP282496. Epub 2022 Jul 26.


A fundamental principle of biological motor control is that the neural commands driving movement must conform to the response properties of the motor plants they control. In the oculomotor system, characterizations of oculomotor plant dynamics traditionally supported models in which the plant responds to neural drive to extraocular muscles on exclusively short, subsecond timescales. These models predict that the stabilization of gaze during fixations between saccades requires neural drive that approximates eye position on longer timescales and is generated through the temporal integration of brief eye velocity-encoding signals that cause saccades. However, recent measurements of oculomotor plant behaviour have revealed responses on longer timescales. Furthermore, measurements of firing patterns in the oculomotor integrator have revealed a more complex encoding of eye movement dynamics. Yet, the link between these observations has remained unclear. Here we use measurements from the larval zebrafish to link dynamics in the oculomotor plant to dynamics in the neural integrator. The oculomotor plant in both anaesthetized and awake larval zebrafish was characterized by a broad distribution of response timescales, including those much longer than 1 s. Analysis of the firing patterns of oculomotor integrator neurons, which exhibited a broadly distributed range of decay time constants, demonstrates the sufficiency of this activity for stabilizing gaze given an oculomotor plant with distributed response timescales. This work suggests that leaky integration on multiple, distributed timescales by the oculomotor integrator reflects an inverse model for generating oculomotor commands, and that multi-timescale dynamics may be a general feature of motor circuitry. KEY POINTS: Recent observations of oculomotor plant response properties and neural activity across the oculomotor system have called into question classical formulations of both the oculomotor plant and the oculomotor integrator. Here we use measurements from new and published experiments in the larval zebrafish together with modelling to reconcile recent oculomotor plant observations with oculomotor integrator function. We developed computational techniques to characterize oculomotor plant responses over several seconds in awake animals, demonstrating that long timescale responses seen in anaesthetized animals extend to the awake state. Analysis of firing patterns of oculomotor integrator neurons demonstrates the sufficiency of this activity for stabilizing gaze given an oculomotor plant with multiple, distributed response timescales. Our results support a formulation of gaze stabilization by the oculomotor system in which commands for stabilizing gaze are generated through integration on multiple, distributed timescales.

Keywords: motor plant; multi-timescale; neural dynamics; oculomotor integrator.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Eye Movements*
  • Neurons / physiology
  • Saccades
  • Zebrafish*