Neurons that discharge strongly during the time period of fixation of a visual target and cease to discharge prior to saccade initiation have been described in the brain stem, superior colliculus, and cortical areas. In subcortical structures, fixation neurons play a reciprocal role with saccadic neurons during the generation of eye movements. Their role in the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex is less obvious and it is not known if they are activated by fixation, inhibit saccade generation, or play a role in more complex functions such as the inhibition of inappropriate responses. Here we examined the properties of prefrontal fixation neurons in the context of an anti-saccade task, which requires an eye movement directed away from a prepotent visual stimulus. We tested monkeys with variants of the task, allowing us to dissociate activity synchronized on the fixation offset, presentation of the visual stimulus, and saccadic onset. Fixation neuron activity latency was most strongly tied to the offset of the fixation point across task variants. It was not well predicted by the appearance of the visual stimulus, which is essential for planning of the correct eye movement and inhibiting inappropriate ones. Activity of fixation neurons was generally negatively correlated with that of saccade neurons, however critical differences in timing make it unlikely that they provide precisely timed signals for the generation of eye movements. These results demonstrate the role of fixation neurons in the prefrontal cortex during tasks requiring timing of appropriate eye movement and inhibition of inappropriate actions.
- Copyright © 2016, Journal of Neurophysiology