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Keywords:

  • rodent tectum;
  • sensorimotor control;
  • electrical stimulation;
  • head orienting;
  • amplitude/velocity;
  • non-saccadic system

Abstract

Saccades produced by electrical stimulation of the superior colliculus in primates are influenced primarily by the location of the stimulating electrode, with the suprathreshold intensity or frequency of the stimulating pulse train having little effect. Any given collicular site produces a characteristic movement of relatively fixed amplitude and velocity. In accordance with this finding, in models of the saccadic eye movement system the superior colliculus specifies the change of eye position: the velocity of movement components are determined by ‘pulse generators’ located between the superior colliculus and the oculomotor neurons. Previous findings in rodents, however, have suggested that eye and head movements induced by stimulation at some collicular sites may be critically dependent on stimulation parameters, implying that in these animals the superior colliculus has access to a non-saccadic control system. To investigate this possibility, rats with electrodes implanted into the lateral intermediate layers were stimulated with pulse trains of varying frequency and duration, and the resultant head movements analysed from video tape. At seven of the nine sites studied, amplitude of the horizontal component of the head movement was linearly related to stimulating frequency for fixed-duration trains, in some cases over a ten-fold range. Subsequent variation of train duration showed that amplitude was affected not by frequency as such, but by the number of pulses in the train; frequency was related to the mean velocity of the movement. By appropriate setting of these parameters, independent control of head movement amplitude and velocity could be achieved. These results suggest that the rodent superior colliculus may be able to control head movement without recourse to a pulse generator, and thus influence the trajectory of the movement directly. If so, it may prove to be a useful preparation for testing theories of trajectory formation.