Neural control of rapid binocular eye movements: Saccade-vergence burst neurons.

Research paper by Julie J Quinet, Kevin K Schultz, Paul J PJ May, Paul D PD Gamlin

Indexed on: 04 Nov '20Published on: 04 Nov '20Published in: PNAS


During normal viewing, we direct our eyes between objects in three-dimensional (3D) space many times a minute. To accurately fixate these objects, which are usually located in different directions and at different distances, we must generate eye movements with appropriate versional and vergence components. These combined saccade-vergence eye movements result in disjunctive saccades with a vergence component that is much faster than that generated during smooth, symmetric vergence eye movements. The neural control of disjunctive saccades is still poorly understood. Recent anatomical studies suggested that the central mesencephalic reticular formation (cMRF), located lateral to the oculomotor nucleus, contains premotor neurons potentially involved in the neural control of these eye movements. We have therefore investigated the role of the cMRF in the control of disjunctive saccades in trained rhesus monkeys. Here, we describe a unique population of cMRF neurons that, during disjunctive saccades, display a burst of spikes that are highly correlated with vergence velocity. Importantly, these neurons show no increase in activity for either conjugate saccades or symmetric vergence. These neurons are termed saccade-vergence burst neurons (SVBNs) to maintain consistency with modeling studies that proposed that such a class of neuron exists to generate the enhanced vergence velocities observed during disjunctive saccades. Our results demonstrate the existence and characteristics of SVBNs whose activity is correlated solely with the vergence component of disjunctive saccades and, based on modeling studies, are critically involved in the generation of the disjunctive saccades required to view objects in our 3D world.