Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience
During natural viewing, the trajectories of saccadic eye movements often deviate dramatically from a straight-line path between objects. In human studies, saccades have been shown to deviate toward or away from salient visual distractors depending on visual- and goal-related parameters, but the neurophysiological basis for this is not well understood. Some studies suggest that deviation toward is associated with competition between simultaneously active sites within the intermediate layers of the superior colliculus (SC), a midbrain structure that integrates sensory and goal-related signals for the production of saccades. In contrast, deviation away is hypothesized to reflect a higher-level process, whereby the neural site associated with the distractor isactively suppressed via a form of endogenous, top–down inhibition. We tested this hypothesis by measuring presaccadic distractor-evoked activation of SC visuomotor neurons while monkeys performed a simple task configured specifically to induce a high degree of saccades that deviate away. In the SC, cognitive processes such as top–down expectation are represented as variation in the sustained, low-frequency presaccadic discharge. We reasoned that any inhibition at the distractor-related locus associated with saccade deviation should affect the excitability of the neuron, thereby affecting the discharge rate. We found that, although the task produced robust deviation away, there was no evidence of a relationship between saccade deviation and distractor-evoked activation outside a short perisaccadic window that began no earlier than 22 msec before saccade onset. This indicates that deviation away is not adequately explained by a form of sustained, top–down inhibition at the distractor-related locus in the SC. The results are discussed in relation to the primary sources of inhibition associated with saccadic control.