Frontal eye field inactivation reduces saccade preparation in the superior colliculus but does not alter how preparatory activity relates to saccades of a given latency

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A neural correlate for saccadic reaction times (SRTs) in the gap saccade task is the level of low-frequency activity in the intermediate layers of the superior colliculus (iSC) just before visual target onset: greater levels of such preparatory iSC low-frequency activity precede shorter SRTs. The frontal eye fields (FEFs) are one likely source of iSC preparatory activity, since FEF preparatory activity is also inversely related to SRT. To better understand the FEF’s role in saccade preparation, and the way in which such preparation relates to SRT, in two male rhesus monkeys, we compared iSC preparatory activity across unilateral reversible cryogenic inactivation of the FEF. FEF inactivation increased contralesional SRTs, and lowered ipsilesional iSC preparatory activity. FEF inactivation also reduced rostral iSC activity during the gap period. Importantly, the distributions of SRTs generated with or without FEF inactivation overlapped, enabling us to conduct a novel population-level analyses examining iSC preparatory activity just before generation of SRT-matched saccades. When matched for SRTs, we observed no change during FEF inactivation in the relationship between iSC preparatory activity and SRT-matched saccades across a range of SRTs, even for the occasional express saccade. Thus, while our results emphasize that the FEF has an overall excitatory influence on preparatory activity in the iSC, the communication between the iSC and downstream oculomotor brainstem is unaltered for SRT-matched saccades.