Roles of the Primate Motor Thalamus in the Generation of Antisaccades

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In response to changes in our environment, we select from possible actions depending on the given situation. The underlying neural mechanisms for this flexible behavioral control have been examined using the antisaccade paradigm. In this task, subjects suppress saccades to the sudden appearance of visual stimuli (prosaccade) and make a saccade in the opposite direction. Because recent imaging studies showed enhanced activity in the thalamus and basal ganglia during antisaccades, we hypothesized that the corticobasal ganglia loop may be involved. To test this, we recorded from neurons in the paralaminar part of the ventroanterior (VA), ventrolateral (VL) and mediodorsal (MD) nuclei of the thalamus when 3 monkeys performed pro/antisaccade tasks. For many VL and some VA neurons, the firing rate was greater during anti-than prosaccades. In contrast, neurons in the MD thalamus showed much variety of responses. For the population as a whole, neuronal activity in the VA/VL thalamus was strongly enhanced during antisaccades compared with prosaccades, while activity in the MD nucleus was not. Inactivation of the VA/VL thalamus resulted in an increase in the number of error trials in the antisaccade tasks, indicating that signals in the motor thalamus play roles in the generation of antisaccades. Enhancement of firing modulation during antisaccades found in the thalamus and those reported previously in the supplementary eye field and the basal ganglia suggest a strong functional linkage between these structures. The neuronal processes through the thalamocortical pathways might be essential for the volitional control of saccades.


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