Impairment but not abolishment of express saccades after unilateral or bilateral inactivation of the frontal eye fields

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Journal of Neurophysiology





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Copyright © 2020 the American Physiological Society. Express saccades are a manifestation of a visual grasp reflex triggered when visual information arrives in the intermediate layers of the superior colliculus (SCi), which in turn orchestrates the lower level brainstem saccade generator to evoke a saccade with a very short latency (~100 ms or less). A prominent theory regarding express saccades generation is that they are facilitated by preparatory signals, presumably from cortical areas, which prime the SCi before the arrival of visual information. Here, we test this theory by reversibly inactivating a key cortical input to the SCi, the frontal eye fields (FEF), while monkeys perform an oculomotor task that promotes express saccades. Across three tasks with a different combination of potential target locations and unilateral or bilateral FEF inactivation, we found a spared ability for monkeys to generate express saccades, despite decreases in express saccade frequency during FEF inactivation. This result is consistent with the FEF having a facilitatory but not critical role in express saccade generation, likely because other cortical areas compensate for the loss of preparatory input to the SCi. However, we also found decreases in the accuracy and peak velocity of express saccades generated during FEF inactivation, which argues for an influence of the FEF on the saccadic burst generator even during express saccades. Overall, our results shed further light on the role of the FEF in the shortest-latency visually-guided eye movements. NEW & NOTEWORTHY Express saccades are the shortest-latency saccade. The frontal eye fields (FEF) are thought to promote express saccades by presetting the superior colliculus. Here, by reversibly inactivating the FEF either unilaterally or bilaterally via cortical cooling, we support this by showing that the FEF plays a facilitative but not critical role in express saccade generation. We also found that FEF inactivation lowered express saccade peak velocity, emphasizing a contribution of the FEF to express saccade kinematics.

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