ProjectBrainstem control of slow ocular drifts during gaze fixation

Basic data

Brainstem control of slow ocular drifts during gaze fixation
01/07/2017 to 31/01/2021
Abstract / short description:
During gaze fixation, tiny eye movements, including slow ocular drifts and microsaccades, continuously occur. Even though these eye movements have been known to exist for several decades, both their mechanisms of generation and their impacts on vision, perception, and cognition remain to be heavily under-investigated. During the past ~15 years, research on microsaccades has experienced a significant revival, especially in terms of neural mecha-nisms, but the mechanisms for slow ocular drifts remain to be a major research frontier. The main goal of our research proposal is to uncover the neural mechanisms for the control of slow ocular drifts at the level of the brainstem. We will investigate the causal role of brain-stem omnipause neurons (OPNs) and superior colliculus (SC) in both drift and microsaccade control and coordination. We hypothesize that SC and OPNs engage synergistically such that SC activity provides a “position” estimate for ocular drifts and OPN activity influences “eye velocity”. The transformative aspects of our proposal are twofold. First, we will uncover hitherto unknown neurophysiological mechanisms associated with the smallest of eye movements. Second, given that a significant portion of systems neuroscience research with awake, behaving subjects is conducted under gaze fixation conditions, our work will clarify how much of behavioural and neural effects observed in such research may be a function of subliminal oculomotor behaviour. For example, ocular drifts occur incessantly and thus keep translating retinal images. If these eye movements turn out to be centrally controlled and not random, then their occurrence may contribute to the results of a variety of experiments on visual processing. Based on the outcome of our previous work with microsaccades, we antic-ipate that several classic phenomena in systems neuroscience may likewise eventually be cast in a different, yet intriguing, light as a result of our proposed research on ocular drifts.

Involved staff


Department of Systems Neuroscience
Hertie Institute for Clinical Brain Research (HIH), Non-clinical institutes, Faculty of Medicine

Local organizational units

Department of Cognitive Neurology †
University Department of Neurology
Hospitals and clinical institutes, Faculty of Medicine


Bonn, Nordrhein-Westfalen, Germany

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