alexa Common inhibitory mechanism for saccades and smooth-pursuit eye movements.
General Science

General Science

Journal of Ergonomics

Author(s): Missal M, Keller EL

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Abstract The premotor pathways subserving saccades and smooth-pursuit eye movements are usually thought to be different. Indeed, saccade and smooth-pursuit eye movements have different dynamics and functions. In particular, a group of midline cells in the pons called omnipause neurons (OPNs) are considered to be part of the saccadic system only. It has been established that OPNs keep premotor neurons for saccades under constant inhibition during fixation periods. Saccades occur only when the activity of OPNs has completely stopped or paused. Accordingly, electrical stimulation in the region of OPNs inhibits premotor neurons and interrupts saccades. The premotor relay for smooth pursuit is thought to be organized differently and omnipause neurons are not supposed to be involved in smooth-pursuit eye movements. To investigate this supposition, OPNs were recorded during saccades and during smooth pursuit in the monkey (Macaca mulatta). Unexpectedly, we found that neuronal activity of OPNs decreased during smooth pursuit. The resulting activity reduction reached statistical significance in approximately 50\% of OPNs recorded during pursuit of a target moving at 40 degrees /s. On average, activity was reduced by 34\% but never completely stopped or paused. The onset of activity reduction coincided with the onset of smooth pursuit. The duration of activity reduction was correlated with pursuit duration and its intensity was correlated with eye velocity. Activity reduction was observed even in the absence of catch-up saccades that frequently occur during pursuit. Electrical microstimulation in the OPNs' area induced a strong deceleration of the eye during smooth pursuit. These results suggest that OPNs form an inhibitory mechanism that could control the time course of smooth pursuit. This inhibitory mechanism is part of the fixation system and is probably needed to avoid reflexive eye movements toward targets that are not purposefully selected. This study shows that saccades and smooth pursuit, although they are different kinds of eye movements, are controlled by the same inhibitory system.
This article was published in J Neurophysiol and referenced in Journal of Ergonomics

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