Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Doctor of Philosophy




Dr. Stefan Everling


Cognitive control enables us to guide our behaviour in an appropriate manner, such as rapid eye movements (saccades) toward a location or object of interest. A well-established test of cognitive control is the anti-saccade task, which instructs subjects to look away from a suddenly-appearing stimulus. The dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (dlPFC) and anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) are part of a cortical saccade control network that influences the superior colliculus (SC), which sends saccade commands to the brainstem saccade generator. To compare and contrast the roles of the dlPFC and ACC in saccade control, the cryoloop method of reversible cryogenic deactivation was used to identify the effects of dlPFC and ACC deactivation on pro-saccades and anti-saccades. Both dlPFC and ACC deactivation increased the incidence of ipsilateral saccades, but only dlPFC deactivation impaired contralateral saccades. An inhibitory model of prefrontal function has been proposed by which the prefrontal cortex suppresses the activity of SC saccade neurons on anti-saccade trials, to inhibit an unwanted saccade toward the stimulus. A direct test of this inhibitory model was performed by deactivating the dlPFC and recording the activity of SC saccade neurons. Unilateral dlPFC deactivation delayed the onset of saccade-related activity in the SC ipsilateral to deactivation, which suggests that the dlPFC has an excitatory influence on SC saccade neurons. There was also an increase of activity in the contralateral SC, which suggests that unilateral dlPFC deactivation caused a neural imbalance at the SC. Bilateral dlPFC deactivation, on the other hand, should not cause a neural imbalance, and thus was used to identify the effects of dlPFC deactivation that were caused by cognitive control impairments. Bilateral dlPFC deactivation increased the stimulus-related activity, and decreased the saccade-related activity, of SC saccade neurons. An increase of anti-saccade errors was more substantial in a “rule memorized” condition, which suggests that the dlPFC plays an important role in rule maintenance. Given an excitatory influence of the dlPFC on SC saccade neurons, I propose that the dlPFC facilitates anti-saccade task performance by first maintaining the relevant rule in working memory, then implementing the rule by enhancing the saccade-generating signal at the SC.