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Keywords:

  • binocular;
  • burst neuron;
  • conjugate;
  • extraocular;
  • monocular;
  • saccade

Abstract

When looking between targets located in three-dimensional space, information about relative depth is sent from the visual cortex to the motor control centers in the brainstem, which are responsible for generating appropriate motor commands to move the eyes. Surprisingly, how the neurons in the brainstem use the depth information supplied by the visual cortex to precisely aim each eye on a visual target remains highly controversial. This review will consider the results of recent studies that have focused on determining how individual neurons contribute to realigning gaze when we look between objects located at different depths. In particular, the results of new experiments provide compelling evidence that the majority of saccadic neurons dynamically encode the movement of an individual eye, and show that the time-varying discharge of the saccadic neuron population encodes the drive required to account for vergence facilitation during disconjugate saccades. Notably, these results suggest that an additional input (i.e. from a separate vergence subsystem) is not required to shape the activity of motoneurons during disconjugate saccades. Furthermore, whereas motoneurons drive both fast and slow vergence movements, saccadic neurons discharge only during fast vergence movements, emphasizing the existence of distinct premotor pathways for controlling fast vs. slow vergence. Taken together, these recent findings contradict the traditional view that the brain is circuited with independent pathways for conjugate and vergence control, and thus provide an important new insight into how the brain controls three-dimensional gaze shifts.