A neural correlate for the gap effect on saccadic reaction times in monkey

M. C. Dorris, D. P. Munoz


1. The reduction in saccadic reaction time associated with the introduction of a period of darkness between the disappearance of an initial fixation point and the appearance of a new peripheral saccade target is known as the gap effect. Fixation cells in the rostral pole of the monkey superior colliculus have been implicated in the control of active visual fixation and suppressing saccadic eye movements. To determine whether specific variations of fixation cell discharge was correlated to the gap effect, we recorded the activity of fixation cells while a monkey generated visually guided saccades with various temporal gaps between the disappearance of the initial fixation point and the appearance of a peripheral saccade target. 2. The saccadic reaction times of the monkey were shortest with gap durations of 200-300 ms and increased with shorter or longer gap durations. The activity of fixation cells followed a similar time course, having a minimum discharge rate 200-300 ms into the gap, and increased activity at the time of target appearance with smaller or larger gap durations. 3. We propose that the activity of fixation cells in the monkey superior colliculus provide a neural correlate of the gap effect. The decrease in activity of fixation cells 200-300 ms into the gap weakens the powerful state of inhibition which they normally exert upon the saccade generating system, allowing targets to be acquired at shorter reaction times.