Key words Omnipause neurons
Springer Online Journal Archives 1860-2000
Abstract Pontine omnipause neurons (OPNs) have so far been considered as forming a homogeneous group of neurons whose tonic firing stops during the duration of saccades, when the head is immobilized. In cats, they pause for the total duration of gaze shifts, when the head is free to move. In the present study, carried out on alert cats with fixed heads, we present observations made during self-initiated saccades and during tracking of a moving target which show that the OPN population is not homogeneous. Of the 76 OPNs we identified, 39 were found to have characteristics similar to those of previously described neurons, ”saccade” (S-) OPNs: (1) the durations of their pauses were significantly correlated with the durations of saccades; (2) the discharge ceased shortly before saccade onset and resumed before saccade end; (3) visual responses to target motion were excitatory; and (4) during tracking, S-OPNs interrupted the discharge for the duration of saccades and resumed firing during perisaccadic ”drifts”. However, the characteristics of 37 neurons (”complex” (C-) OPNs) were different: (1) the pause duration was not correlated with the duration of self-initiated saccades; (2) time lead of pause onsets relative to saccades was, on average, longer than in the group of S-OPNs, and firing resumed after the saccade end; (3) visual target motion suppressed tonic discharges; and (4) during tracking, firing was interrupted for the total duration of gaze shifts, including not only saccades but also perisaccadic ”drifts”. We conclude that cat OPNs can be subdivided into two main groups. The first comprises neurons whose firing patterns are compatible with gating individual saccades (”saccade” OPNs). The second group consists of ”complex” OPNs whose firing characteristics are appropriate to gate total gaze displacements rather than individual saccades. The function of these neurons may be to disinhibit pontobulbar circuits participating in the generation of saccade sequences and associated perisaccadic drifts.
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