Neurophysiology and neuroanatomy of reflexive and volitional saccades: evidence from studies of humans.

Research paper by Jennifer E JE McDowell, Kara A KA Dyckman, Benjamin P BP Austin, Brett A BA Clementz

Indexed on: 07 Oct '08Published on: 07 Oct '08Published in: Brain and Cognition


This review provides a summary of the contributions made by human functional neuroimaging studies to the understanding of neural correlates of saccadic control. The generation of simple visually guided saccades (redirections of gaze to a visual stimulus or pro-saccades) and more complex volitional saccades require similar basic neural circuitry with additional neural regions supporting requisite higher level processes. The saccadic system has been studied extensively in non-human (e.g., single-unit recordings) and human (e.g., lesions and neuroimaging) primates. Considerable knowledge of this system's functional neuroanatomy makes it useful for investigating models of cognitive control. The network involved in pro-saccade generation (by definition largely exogenously-driven) includes subcortical (striatum, thalamus, superior colliculus, and cerebellar vermis) and cortical (primary visual, extrastriate, and parietal cortices, and frontal and supplementary eye fields) structures. Activation in these regions is also observed during endogenously-driven voluntary saccades (e.g., anti-saccades, ocular motor delayed response or memory saccades, predictive tracking tasks and anticipatory saccades, and saccade sequencing), all of which require complex cognitive processes like inhibition and working memory. These additional requirements are supported by changes in neural activity in basic saccade circuitry and by recruitment of additional neural regions (such as prefrontal and anterior cingulate cortices). Activity in visual cortex is modulated as a function of task demands and may predict the type of saccade to be generated, perhaps via top-down control mechanisms. Neuroimaging studies suggest two foci of activation within FEF - medial and lateral - which may correspond to volitional and reflexive demands, respectively. Future research on saccade control could usefully (i) delineate important anatomical subdivisions that underlie functional differences, (ii) evaluate functional connectivity of anatomical regions supporting saccade generation using methods such as ICA and structural equation modeling, (iii) investigate how context affects behavior and brain activity, and (iv) use multi-modal neuroimaging to maximize spatial and temporal resolution.