In humans and other animals with foveate visual systems, eye movement is essential for clear vision, visual information processing, and cognition. The overarching goal of our work is to elucidate the neural mechanisms of eye movement control in order to understand the etiology of oculomotor disorders (e.g., nystagmus, strabismus, etc.) in neurological diseases, and to develop differential diagnoses and effective treatments. The oculomotor system has multiple subsystems performing two basic functions: shifting gaze to acquire a new target of interest and stabilizing gaze on the target against head or target motion. We here propose to study the neural mechanisms of gaze stabilization against self-generated, or active, head movement.
The Aims of the proposal are motivated by three recent findings of ours that challenge current models of gaze control. First, we trained monkeys to make active head movements while maintaining stable gaze and found that compensatory eye movement against active head movement is not mediated by the vestibulo-ocular reflex (VOR), which is driven by vestibular sensory signals with a latency of ~7ms. Instead, it is mediated by a previously unrecognized active gaze stabilization (AGS) response, which is driven by corollary discharge of active head motor commands with zero latency with respect to active head rotation. We further showed that adaptive changes in VOR do not transfer to AGS, indicating that AGS is not only independent of the VOR, but also supersedes it during active head rotation. As a novel gaze stabilization mechanism, AGS challenges current models of combined eye-head gaze shifts that treat VOR as the sole gaze stabilizing mechanism interacting with saccades. Second, against the current assumption that active head movement is not explicitly encoded by brainstem neurons, we identified a group of brainstem vestibular-head (VH) neurons that respond to both active and passive head movements. These neurons encode active head velocity commands that supersede vestibular sensory input during active head movement. Third, contrary to the Ocular Plant Hypothesis proposed by Robinson, which assumes a fixed relationship between a motoneuron firing rate and eye movement, we found that following combined eye-head gaze shifts, the abducens neurons firing rate during AGS were much lower than that predicted by their responses during VOR. Taken together, these three results imply that current models of gaze control, developed in head-fixed models using an individual oculomotor subsystem, are insufficient to understand gaze control in natural conditions involving active head movement and multiple oculomotor subsystems.
The Aims of the proposal are to elucidate the neural basis of AGS by characterizing the role and connections of VH neurons and the activity of motoneurons of the agonist/antagonist extraocular muscles (EOM) during combined eye-head movements.

Public Health Relevance

Gaze stabilization during head rotations is essential for clear vision. While the neural mechanisms for gaze stabilization during passive head rotations are well-established, little is known about the neural basis of gaze stabilization during active head rotations. This application will provide important knowledge for understanding the fundamental vestibular and oculomotor neurophysiology and improving the diagnosis and treatment of vestibular and oculomotor disorders in humans.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders (NIDCD)
Research Project (R01)
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Special Emphasis Panel (ZRG1)
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Platt, Christopher
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University of Mississippi Medical Center
Schools of Medicine
United States
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