The initiation of smooth pursuit eye movements and saccades in normal subjects and in “express-saccade makers”
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A vast knowledge exists about saccadic reaction times (RT) and their bi- or multimodal distributions with very fast (express) and regular RT. Recently, there has been some evidence that the smooth pursuit system may show a similar RT behavior. Since moving targets usually evoke a combined pursuit/saccade response, we asked which processes influence the initiation of pursuit and saccadic eye movements. Furthermore, we investigated whether and how the pursuit and saccadic system interact during the initiation of eye movements to moving targets. We measured the RT of the initial smooth pursuit (iSP) response and of the first corrective saccade and compared the RT behavior of both. Furthermore we compared the behavior of the corrective saccades to moving targets to that of saccades to stationary targets, known from the literature. The stimulus consisted of a target that moved suddenly at constant velocity (ramp). In addition, prior to the movement, a temporal gap, a position step or a combination of both could occur (gap-ramp, step-ramp, gap-step-ramp, respectively). Differently from most previous studies, we chose step and ramp with the same direction to provoke competition between the pursuit and saccade system. For the first time we investigated pursuit initiation in “express-saccade makers” (ES makers), a subject group known to produce an abnormally high percentage of short-latency saccades in saccade tasks. We compared their results with subject groups who were either naive or trained with respect to saccade tasks. The iSP started at approximately 100 ms, which corresponds to express saccade latencies. These short iSP-RT occurred reflex-like and almost independent of the experimental task. A bimodal frequency distribution of RT with a second peak of longer iSP-RT occurred exclusively in the ramp paradigm. The RT of the first corrective saccades in a pursuit task were comparable with that in a saccade task and depended on the stimulus. The ability of ES makers to produce a high number of express saccades was transferred to corrective saccades in the pursuit task, but not to pursuit initiation. In summary, short-latency pursuit responses differ from express saccades with respect to their independence of experiment and subject group. Therefore, a simple analogy to express saccades cannot be drawn, although some mechanisms seem to act similarly on both the pursuit and the saccade system (such as disengagement of attention with the gap effect). Furthermore, we found evidence that the initial pursuit response and the first corrective saccade are processed independently of each other. The first corrective saccades to moving targets behave like saccades to stationary targets. Normal pursuit but abnormal saccade RT of ES makers can be explained by recent theories of superior colliculus (SC) function in terms of retinal error handling.
KeywordsPursuit and saccadic reaction times Corrective saccades Fixation Gap effect Human
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